Radioactive waste (RAW) management policy

Radioactive waste (RAW) is generated by the research, development and utilization of nuclear energy at NPPs, nuclear fuel cycle facilities, test and research reactors, universities, institutes, and medical facilities, using accelera­tors, radioactive isotopes (RI) and nuclear fuel materials. It is essential that activities associated with research, development and utilization of nuclear energy also process and dispose of the RAW in such a way as to prevent any significant effects on the human environment now and in the future.

The generation that has enjoyed the convenience and benefits of nuclear energy assumes the responsibility to expend all efforts for safe disposal of RAW for the next generation. There are four principles for the treatment and disposal of RAW:

1. The liability of generators,

2. Minimization of radioactive waste,

3. Rational treatment and disposal,

4. Implementation based on mutual understanding with the people.

Under these principles, it is important to appropriately classify the wastes and treat and dispose of each classification safely based on the recognition that the wastes may include materials with characteristics that take an extraordinarily long time for the radioactivity to drop to insignificant levels2.

A near-surface disposal facility already operates for most of the low-level radioactive waste (LLW) generated at NPPs and is operated in Rokkasyo, Aomori-Ken by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), as a private business, excluding part of the LLW. With regard to near-surface disposal of RI and research wastes, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) will conduct and promote disposal activity in cooperation with the government and other waste generators. As for the remaining LLW, JNFL plans to construct an intermediate depth disposal facility for NPPs and the Nuclear Waste Man­agement Organization of Japan (NUMO) will geologically dispose of transuranic (TRU) wastes. Funds from the owner of the reprocessing plant and mixed oxide (MOX) fuel fabricator, etc., have been accumulating via a levy to pay for geological disposal of TRU wastes since 2009. However, the implementing body for subsurface disposal of LLW, RI and research wastes has yet to be decided.

High-level radioactive waste (HLW), generated during reprocessing spent fuel (SF), is being vitrified and packaged prior to disposal in a geo­logical repository. Research and development for that purpose had been conducted mainly by what was the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Devel­opment Corporation (PNC), which was restructured as the JAEA in October 2005 through the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute. The government worked to develop a disposal system taking into consideration these policy guidelines and scientific evidence, and enacted the Specified Radioactive Waste Final Disposal Act in June 2000. NUMO was created in October 2002 as an implementing body for disposal, as specified in the Act. In December 2002, NUMO started ‘open solicitation’, which encouraged municipalities to consider investigating the suitability of their local area for developing a deep repository for HLW. Meanwhile, electric utilities and others have been accumulating funds for the disposal of HLW.

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