9 Juin 2013
June 8, 2013
France is the world's most nuclear-dependent country.
Under the pretext of international cooperation with this country, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving fast in a direction that is exactly opposite to the promise he made during last year's Lower House election campaign to reduce Japan's dependence on nuclear power.
The only conclusion we can draw from its actions is that the Abe administration is solidly committed to promoting nuclear power.
Abe and visiting French President Francois Hollande issued a joint statement stressing the importance of nuclear power generation after their meeting on June 7.
The statement promises support for Japan's efforts to establish a nuclear fuel recycling system, including the restart of the fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. The document also calls for bilateral cooperation in the development of fast reactor technology and in exports of nuclear technology to third countries.
Little more than two years have passed since the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, and it is not completely over yet. Nor is the work to decontaminate areas polluted with radiation and to allow evacuees to return home yet finished.
New revelations, including the discovery of an active fault within the grounds of a nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, have brought to the fore afresh the risk of operating nuclear power plants in this earthquake-prone country.
The advent of the Abe administration has not decreased the desire of many Japanese to see their society wean itself from dependence on the energy released by nuclear fission.
Despite these circumstances, Japan and France jointly declared their intention to attach great importance to nuclear power.
It may make sense for Japan to receive help from France in certain areas where the European powerhouse has accumulated experience and expertise, such as reactor decommissioning and radioactive waste management.
But the other parts of the bilateral nuclear power agreement are all highly questionable.
The biggest source of concern is their deal on cooperation over Japan's stalled program to create a nuclear fuel recycling system.
Last month, Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority imposed a ban on the restart of the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor, which is supposed to play the central role in the program. The nuclear safety watchdog's action came after it was revealed that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which operates the experimental reactor, failed to carry out mandatory inspections of nearly 10,000 pieces of equipment at the plant.
Prospects for the commercial use of a fast-breeder reactor are highly doubtful from a technological viewpoint as well. The realistic decision for the Monju program would be to pull the plug on it and decommission the reactor.
The Rokkasho reprocessing plant has also been plagued by a series of troubles. Even if the plant is somehow brought online eventually, its operation will keep churning out plutonium for which there is no clear plan for use.
Japan is the only country which doesn't possess nuclear arms but has a large-scale nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.
Japan would cause immeasurable damage to the international system to prevent nuclear proliferation if it works with France, a nuclear power, in a project that would increase its production of plutonium.
This kind of cooperation between a country armed with nuclear weapons and a country that once suffered nuclear devastation could make many other non-nuclear countries think that they would be better off owning material that can also be used to produce nuclear arms.
Rather than building a nuclear fuel recycling system, Japan and France should work together in efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation.
The Abe administration has been showing increasingly clear signs that it is keen to promote nuclear power generation.
The administration has included the use of atomic energy in its strategy for economic growth. In addition to the Middle East, India and France, East Europe is also on the list of potential areas for the administration's efforts to expand Japan's nuclear cooperation with other countries. Abe is going to announce Japan's nuclear cooperation with East Europe during his visit to Poland in mid-June.
But the Abe administration has failed to offer a detailed explanation about its nuclear power policy. In taking advantage of international cooperation to gradually shift its policy toward promoting nuclear power, it is acting in a way that seriously compromises its political integrity.