SUTTSU, Japan — It seemed like easy money. The Japanese government was conducting a study of potential locations for storing spent nuclear fuel — a review of old geological maps and research papers about local plate tectonics. It put out a call for localities to volunteer. Participating would commit them to nothing.
Haruo Kataoka, the mayor of an ailing fishing town on the northern island of Hokkaido, put up his hand. His town, Suttsu, could use the money. What could go wrong?
The answer, he quickly learned, was a lot. A resident threw a firebomb at his home. Others threatened to recall the town council. A former prime minister traveled six hours from Tokyo to denounce the plan. The town, which spends much of the year in a snowbound hush, was enveloped in a media storm.
There are few places on earth eager to host a nuclear waste dump. Only Finland and Sweden have settled on permanent repositories for the dregs of their atomic energy programs. But the furor in Suttsu speaks to the deep anxiety that remains in Japan 10 years after an immense earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdown of three nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture, the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
promise that the country made late last year to be carbon-neutral by 2050.
Even before the Fukushima calamity, which led to three explosions and a release of radiation that forced the evacuation of 150,000 people, ambivalence toward nuclear energy was deeply ingrained in Japan. The country is haunted by the hundreds of thousands killed by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II.
Still, most Japanese had come to terms with nuclear power, viewing it as an inevitable part of the energy mix for a resource-poor country that must import about 90 percent of the materials it needs to generate electricity.
government’s plan to release a million tons of treated radioactive water from the site into the ocean.
The government says it would make small releases over 30 years with no impact on human health. Fishermen in Fukushima say that the plan would wreck their long journey toward recovery.