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Japan needs to hold in-depth debate on nukes

January 12, 2016

Nuclear Watch: When will Japan awake from the 'dream' of nuclear energy? (Pt. 63)


Japan needs to hold in-depth debate on nukes

"Japan still has a dream that the country had when it started using atomic energy," said Nobuyasu Abe, a member of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), when he talked in a recent interview about challenges that Japan's nuclear energy policy faces.

Abe, 70, has raised questions about Japan sticking to all nuclear-related projects, including fast-breeder reactors and nuclear fuel reprocessing facilities, based on the idea in the 1950s that uranium is an important resource and must be effectively utilized. Abe calls it "a law of inertia," and dismisses it as Japan's bad habit. He points to the need to hold in-depth debate on the issue depending on changes of the times.

Japan has repeated that it will never have surplus plutonium. Still, Japan has found no way to spend 47.8 tons of plutonium that the country has accumulated. With revisions to the Japan-U.S. nuclear energy agreement coming in three years, bilateral negotiations on the matter will face rough going unless Tokyo paves the way for solving this problem.

"Holding Japan-U.S. talks (on the issue) is equal to considering the future direction of Japan's atomic energy," says Toichi Sakata, 67, former vice minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology, who was involved in bilateral talks in the 1980s.

Sakata suggests that unless all those involved in the use of nuclear energy begin discussions to work out long-term policy measures, Japan's utilization of atomic energy will come to a deadlock.

There is a reference case in Britain, which has accumulated 114 tons of plutonium for civilian use, more than twice the amount Japan possesses. Britain held discussions for nearly two years from 2010 on whether plutonium is a resource or waste because the country needed to spend 2 billion pounds a year, or some 240 billion yen at the exchange rate at the time, on storing plutonium and had difficulties managing it. People from various circles participated in the discussions. The process of the discussions was fully released to the public for national debate. They concluded that plutonium should be used to make mixed-oxide fuel and plutonium that could not be processed to produce such fuel should be dumped.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, 64, professor at Nagasaki University who had served as acting chairman of the AEC, points out that Britain has expressed its readiness to take over plutonium Japan has accumulated if Tokyo pays a certain amount of money. Suzuki says this is an option.

One cannot help but wonder when Japan will awake from its "dream." Japan should hold in-depth debate from a long-term perspective instead of adopting an all-or-nothing approach of simply debating whether to promote or discontinue the use of atomic energy. (By Haruyuki Aikawa, Senior Writer)




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