19 June, 2015
HLW Workshop Held for University Students
On June 14, a workshop was held in Saitama Prefecture, in the northern outskirts of Tokyo, entitled "Let’s Think about High-Level Radioactive Waste." It was hosted by a nonprofit organization (NPO), cosponsored by Jumonji University and the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF), and supported by Niiza City of the same prefecture. The participating students came mainly from Saitama and neighboring prefectures.
The participants first listened to a report about the current situation of high-level radioactive waste (HLW), then were divided into four groups for discussions. At the end, each group presented the results of its discussions to the other groups.
At the workshop, Hidenari Akasaka, a manager at JAIF, explained that HLW is currently stored as vitrified packages in Japan. He talked about the fact that although storage technology is complete, it is essential for it to remain managed and controlled by people.
He also said that ongoing research is looking at how to shorten the half-lives of radioactive materials and how to transform radioactive materials into nonradioactive ones using nuclide transmutation technology, but that neither has reached the stage of practical use.
Regarding site selection — which has made no progress in Japan — Akasaka said recent discussions have been made on a flexible disposal method matched to changing social and economic conditions. He also referred to cases in countries such as Sweden and France, where efforts are made with consideration for future generations.
In the discussion sessions that followed, each student group aired their views and raised questions, together with a facilitator, and then recorded and summarized them on large sheets of colored paper and adhesive labels using multicolored markers. The groups then reassembled, with each making a presentation of its conclusions, which are presented below:
In this group, some said that even younger students had a better understanding of nuclear subjects than they did thanks to classes they took at school since the giant earthquake of March 2011. They also said that it was important for children to share what they learned in school with their families at home.
Students also perceived “gray areas” concerning nuclear power and geological disposal — namely, that neither should be described as “absolutely safe” or “clearly dangerous” — and saw that fear due to ignorance can impede acceptance of HLW solutions. In that context, they discussed the importance of being able to understand information accurately.
The group also thought that thinking on geological disposal should be conveyed to foreigners living in Japan.
The students in this group felt that many things about nuclear power and geological disposal were difficult to understand, even after they were studied. They said that more people would be able to understand the current situation better if more opportunities were provided via TV and in educational settings in a more easily understandable manner.
One person in the group proposed that HLW should be dispersed and stored in more areas across Japan, not just concentrated in Tokai and Rokkasho Villages, despite the high number of volcanoes and earthquakes countrywide. That way, he said, environmental impact assessments could be compared. While storage required management and control by people, robots could also do more.
The students in this group identified several problems in HLW disposal, including the management and selection of sites, costs and technology. They also said that vitrified packages of waste — given their technical safety — offered an early opportunity to gain the confidence of the public. The members also discussed the need for more education so as to deepen people’s understanding.
Regarding the actual disposal itself, the students said that the public has in Japan have not realized the issues at hand, and that no progress can be made despite the presentation of information if the listener does not sense any relevance to his or her situation. It is important, they said, to make the public feel an appropriate sense of urgency and recognize that the question is really just the same as having a meal but not cleaning up afterward.
The group discussed HLW disposal options, concluding that the best one was geological disposal in a way that the waste could be retrieved easily after the development of better technology. At the same time, they were concerned about the risks stemming from the retrievable method.
They also thought the disposal site should be changed if new problems came to light after geological disposal began. The group believed that it would be effective to incorporate lessons on HLW disposal into school classes to get the public to feel more familiar with it and sense that it directly affects them. One student proposed that games and applications be developed as teaching materials about HLW disposal, giving children the additional incentive to learn.
Recently, for example, some schools have started teaching students how to use social networking services (SNS) properly when some children started to use it to bully others. To do so, however, the teaching side had to learn how to use it first.
After the workshop, many comments were made, with most students stressing that they would continue thinking proactively. One person said, “My thinking has become broader since listening to others.” Another person mentioned, “I want to know more.” Meanwhile, one student commented, “Becoming aware of a subject is the start of thinking of it, and today was such a day.” Finally, another noted, “I faced up to my problem — an important one that I had been turning away from and which I had preferred not to think about.”