“It’s a very big problem with no acceptable solution,” said Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster’s school of biomedical sciences, who studied Sweden’s nuclear waste storage proposals. “And more waste is being produced every year.”
The issue ensnared U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 when he canceled plans to build a permanent repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada due to opposition from local residents and politicians. That was after 20 years of work and an investment of $10 billion.
Not PermanentJapan’s Rokkasho isn’t designated as a permanent storage site for nuclear waste -- despite costing almost 3 trillion yen ($39 billion) to build its five facilities on 740 hectares (1,828 acres) and having 2,450 staff on site. Japan won’t have a permanent site operational until the 2040’s, according to Yuichiro Akashi, a spokesman for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan. The group aims to identify a location by 2017, he said.
“It’s a tough situation considering how long it takes to build one,” Akashi said. “A final repository is something we can’t do without so the work will continue.”
Meantime, radioactive waste is piling up and Rokkasho’s storage space for spent nuclear fuel is more than 90 percent full; it has capacity for 3,000 tons and contains 2,834 tons, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. spokesman Hirotake Tatehana said.