Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2012

Kyodo, Japan

An organization representing the nation’s scientists called on the government Tuesday to drop its plan to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste deep underground, saying the risk of geological-based problems is too high.

The Science Council of Japan proposed keeping the waste in “temporary safe storage” sites during a moratorium that could last hundreds of years while efforts are made to establish a safe way to dispose of the lethal substances.

The council compiled the proposal in response to a request by the Atomic Energy Commission to look into the current efforts to select a final repository for high-level radioactive waste ­ a situation that is currently in a stalemate.

“Based on current scientific knowledge, we cannot determine a geological formation that would be stable for hundreds of thousands of years. . . . And thus the best possible option is temporary storage,” said Harutoshi Funabashi, a professor at Hosei University involved in working out the proposal.

“This does not mean postponing the problem irresponsibly to the future. It is to secure time to find ways to more appropriately handle the matter,” he said.

During the moratorium period, the country should promote research on the stability of geological layers and improve the ability to store the waste more safely.

Funabashi said the proposal can be applied if the government maintains or gives up on its current program to reprocess spent fuel from nuclear power plants for recycling.

Under the current plan, fuel reprocessing would produce vitrified high-level radioactive waste, which is to be placed in a final disposal site more than 300 meters underground after being stored for about 30 to 50 years for cooling.

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