For years, Japan has been looking for a place for a nuclear repository. The mayor of Suttsu wants to convince his citizens of the benefits. He fights those who have doubts – and the competition.
Barbara Jung, GDR
Haruo Kataoka thinks that the faces of the people in Sutts can tell if they support his project or not. Suttsu is a small town with 2,900 people on the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido. We know each other, we respect each other – but because the mayor plans to apply for a high-level radioactive waste repository, there is unrest in Sutts.
Finding a place to store nuclear waste in Japan has been difficult for years. Until now, highly radioactive waste has been stored mainly in the nuclear power plants themselves. It is even more difficult for Japan to find a suitable place on the beach due to the high risk of earthquakes than for other countries.
Japan identified suitable areas three years ago, but it is now up to the municipalities to take the first step and allow for a preliminary feasibility study. Such a study would take about two years. This is followed by an overview of the geological properties of the soil. Duration: approximately four years. Then check in detail whether the system is possible at a depth of at least 300 meters. Their duration: approximately 14 years.
State subsidies in millions attract
The mayor of Kataoka sees the repository as an opportunity to secure the city’s future: The financial situation is precarious, due to Corona even more than before, and the city is shrinking. For the first step alone, the inspection of the repository government subsidies of about 16 million euros – more than a third of the annual budget of the city of Suttsu.
In addition, according to the mayor, it is incomprehensible how they could generate nuclear waste at the neighboring Tomari nuclear power plant, but did not want to dispose of it there. The Tomari nuclear power plant is the only one in Hokkaido. Of the 54 nuclear power plants in Japan, nine were back in the grid after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Tomari is not one of them.
At the citizens’ meeting, the majority is against
At the first public hearing in Sutts in late August, Kataoka met with considerable opposition, especially from fishermen and tourism. Interviews with Sutts residents have been going on since last week. Hundreds came.
The father and the child in his arms do not trust the mayor: “Can we really still get out once we approve the feasibility study?” Asks NHK television. Many people share this fear. At the citizens’ meeting, the majority is against.
Competition from the neighboring community
But some also see the repository as an opportunity to breathe new life into the city. A woman in her 30s told the Kyodo news agency that she promised more jobs and more people from the store. If you ask the mayor, he will get the impression that most Sutts citizens support him in his project: “The mood feels that way, yes.” He has not yet given up hope and wants more conversations.
All similar attempts by mayors in other regions have so far failed due to public opposition. At this crucial stage, Kataoka has now surprisingly received competition from the neighboring community: the mayor of Kamoenai also announced that he wants to apply for a feasibility study of the repository. He only has to convince 900 residents of his project in his village.