Nuclear Imperatives and Public Trust: Dealing with Radioactive Waste

By Luther J. Carter | Go to book overview
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either in Japan or abroad. The problem of what to do with stores of plutonium in excess of research and experimental reactor needs would remain, but at least the prospect of adding to the plutonium inventories would be sharply reduced.


Conclusion: Japan as a Nuclear Leader

The Japanese had no choice but to rely on foreign tutelage during the first few decades of their venture into fission energy technology. But today Japan is in a position to strike out independently and to assume an important leadership role in both nuclear technology and efforts to develop national and international regimes to reduce the actual and perceived risks of nuclear power and to increase public acceptance of this energy source.

If an effort to establish geologic disposal facilities for high-level waste in Japan is to be pursued, the government would do well to improve on the clumsy and apparently technically ill-advised initiative at Horonobe. But perhaps the most promising opportunity for Japan would lie in an arrangement with China, whereby the Chinese would provide for disposal of Japanese spent fuel and high-level waste in return for Japanese assistance in nuclear energy development or other endeavors. Both countries would have much to gain. Disposal systems could allow the option of retrieval, and Japan could retain the right to recover the uranium and plutonium contained in the fuel. For China, a cooperative arrangement with Japan surely would make more sense than any agreement to take spent fuel from Europe, on the other side of the world. Such spent fuel storage and disposal options should be made subject to International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

The immediate and urgent problem of low-level waste disposal facing the Japanese utilities must for now be dealt with at home in Japan. But the utilities should consider going beyond the kind of shallow-burial facilities planned for the fuel cycle center at Rokkashomura; these are to consist of reinforced concrete bunkers built in pits, which when filled with drums of waste solidified in concrete or asphalt would be capped with concrete and then covered with earth.81 Although such a disposal method is consistent with methods now favored in the United States, it compares poorly with the much more robust solutions for low-level waste isolation adopted by the Germans and the Swedes. The Swedish

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81
"Land Disposal of LLW Managed by Four Stages, NSC Settles Guidelines," Atoms in Japan, October 1985.

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