A western Japan town on Friday gave the greenlight for a geological survey by two major utilities companies, in a step toward the building of an intermediate facility to temporarily keep spent nuclear fuel.
Chugoku Electric Power Co. proposed earlier this month to Kaminoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture a plan to jointly construct the facility with Kansai Electric Power Co. It will be the second such storage facility in Japan, following one already built in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture in northeastern Japan.
The move will result in a nuclear-related state subsidy and fresh sources of tax revenues for the fast-graying municipality.
"The town is fast becoming impoverished and I have a strong sense of crisis," Kaminoseki Mayor Tetsuo Nishi told an emergency municipal assembly session.
He told a press conference afterward, though, that he has "no intention for the town to become a final disposal site" for radioactive nuclear waste.
Spent nuclear fuel is a byproduct of nuclear power generation and there is around 190,000 tons of it stored at power plants in Japan, taking up around 80 percent of storage capacity, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
That ratio is up from 75 percent in 2019, as resource-poor Japan continues to rely on the energy source even after the Fukushima accident triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.
An intermediate storage facility is designed to keep nuclear spent fuel until it is transferred to a reprocessing facility to extract the fuel for reuse under the government's nuclear fuel recycling policy.
The Aug. 2 proposal on the interim facility comes as Chugoku Electric's plan to construct a nuclear power complex in Kaminoseki remains stalled following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, resulting in a significant reduction in nuclear plant-related subsidies for the town.
The Kaminoseki municipal government had urged Chugoku Electric for fresh measures to revitalize the economy, which led to the latest proposal.
According to Chugoku Electric, the town will receive a subsidy of 140 million yen ($962,000) a year during the period of the survey, which is carried out to determine whether such a facility can be built.
But some local residents are against the construction of the facility.
As Nishi arrived at the municipal office to attend the emergency session, his car was surrounded by residents and others for some 30 minutes, with some yelling and another holding up a placard that read, "Don't bring in nuclear waste."
The government's nuclear fuel recycling policy has also met criticism, as the processing plant, planned in Aomori, is yet to be completed following a plague of problems, and a final disposal site for radioactive waste has also yet to be selected.