24 Mai 2012
May 24, 2012
The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) invited only pro-nuclear people from government and power industry bodies to have a secret "study meeting" on April 24 to draft a report on the country's policy of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, it has been learned.
At the study meeting, a draft report with a cover sheet which read "Handle with care" was handed out to about 30 participants. The "Overall Evaluation" in the draft report -- the conclusion of the report -- was then rewritten in such a way as to make it in favor of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel in accordance with the wishes of power companies before it was submitted to a JAEC subcommittee. While the government has been emphasizing its plan to review the country's nuclear policy from scratch, the revelation highlights the fact that the policy-making process has been distorted.
The JAEC subcommittee incorporated the amended version of the overall evaluation into its report and presented it to the "council of new national energy policy" chaired by JAEC Chairman Shunsuke Kondo on May 23. The report is to be presented to the government's Energy and Environment Council soon.
The Mainichi obtained 79 pages of A-4 size documents. "For use for 4/24 Study Meeting" is written on the upper right of the cover of the documents, with the title: "The Technical Subcommittee on Nuclear Power, Nuclear Fuel Cycle, etc. (the 13th round)." The documents were the draft version of the report that was scheduled to be discussed on April 27.
The secret study meeting was held for about two hours from shortly after 5 p.m. on April 24 at the Central Government Building No.4 in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district where JAEC is located. The participants in the meeting included JAEC Vice Chairman Tatsujiro Suzuki; Cabinet Office officials in charge of nuclear policy; Hideo Morimoto, director of the Nuclear Facilities Development and Nuclear Fuel Cycle Industry Division at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy; Hideki Oda, director of the nuclear energy division at the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan; Harukuni Tanaka, managing director at Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.; a top official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which operates the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor; and employees of power firms including Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power Co. Tatsujiro Suzuki was the only official representing JAEC.
The subcommittee discussed policies of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel, direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel and a "concurrent" approach of reprocessing some spent fuel and directly disposing of other spent fuel. According to sources concerned, a top official of the Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. asked at the secret meeting for maintaining the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. JAEC's Suzuki, who chaired the meeting, was quoted as saying in his reply, "The concurrent approach is the best because it does not affect the project (at the reprocessing plant)." While it is difficult to secure consent on the idea of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel because of the reprocessing plant being hit by a string of trouble in the past, they apparently feared that the direct disposal of all spent nuclear fuel could lead to the shutdown of the reprocessing plant.
Because the direct disposal of all spent nuclear fuel is more economically feasible even if the prices of uranium rise 30 fold, the overall evaluation in the original draft report said, "The direct disposal is superior to reprocessing or the concurrent approach in terms of total costs." But while the amended draft report said "it was highly possible that direct disposal would be superior to reprocessing or the concurrent approach if the price of uranium remains at the current level," it emphasized the merits of the concurrent approach in many parts of the report saying in part, "the concurrent approach is slightly superior economically to reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel." The draft report was not discussed on April 27 due to a lack of time but it was discussed on May 8.
JAEC Chairman Kondo said, "It's too much (if the draft report was distributed). That is an issue that involves my supervisory responsibility." JAEC Vice Chairman Suzuki said, "I may have attended (the study meeting), but in the final analysis it did not affect the discussion at the subcommittee."
A preposterous scene was recently played out behind closed doors in central Tokyo. A secret meeting on Japan's policy for its nuclear fuel cycle, dubbed a "study meeting," was held in the Kasumigaseki district on April 24. Government officials and businessmen from the power industry, who are supposed to draw a sharp line between the two sides, enjoyed chatting and laughing with one another. It was something like a gathering of "nuclear villagers."
A mysterious document was distributed to each participant. The Mainichi's reporting team later found out that the document was in fact the original draft report that was to later be presented to the subcommittee of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC).
Shortly after 5 p.m. on April 24 -- at conference room 743 on the seventh floor of the Central Government Building No. 4 -- a reporter witnessed men in business suits filing into the conference room one after another through doors that were kept open. They were all pro-nuclear people from JAEC, the Cabinet Office, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy in the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., Tokyo Electric Power Co., etc. There was no one there who was opposed to or cautious about the use of nuclear power.
Holding a pile of documents under his arm, a man in a blue shirt entered the room and put the documents on a desk somewhat roughly. He divided the documents into two piles because if he put them in one stack, it could crumble. One of the piles was about 20 centimeters high and the other about 10 centimeters. It was later found out that the documents were the original draft report for the "Technical Subcommittee on Nuclear Power, Nuclear Fuel Cycle, etc." The draft report was actually discussed at a subcommittee meeting 14 days later.
Two officials from the Cabinet Office distributed one set of the documents to each participant sitting at desks arranged in a square shape. Sitting near the doors, a top official of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), which operates the prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju, was poring over the documents. Soon afterwards, the participants started chatting with one another. When one of the members criticized Tetsunari Iida, a staunch opponent of nuclear power and head of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), by name, the participants burst into laughter.
At 5:10 p.m., the doors to the conference room were closed quietly and the secret meeting kicked off. According to sources concerned, a top official of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which operates the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, asked other participants to accept the concurrent approach of "reprocessing and directly disposing of spent nuclear fuel," which could help the firm survive. According to the sources, he stressed that "if the Rokkasho facility were to be abandoned and spent nuclear fuel were to be disposed of directly, problems would occur here and there." If the reprocessing business at Rokkasho fell apart, it is said that about 2.9 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel will have to be hauled out of the storage facility in Rokkasho.
The subcommittee presented its report containing the "Overall Evaluation" full of expressions in favor of the concurrent approach to the "council of new national energy policy" on May 23. An industry ministry official condemned the report, saying, "Even if spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed, waste must eventually be disposed of. At a time when the government and bureaucrats need to come together and toil to create permanent disposal facilities, they are pushing for a policy that will only delay the inevitable."
When the Mainichi reported in its morning edition on May 8 that an agenda item for the "council of new national energy policy" headed by JAEC Chairman Shunsuke Kondo had been covered up because it stood in the way of reactivating idled nuclear reactors, Kondo said "there was no problem." But in light of what happened at the secret meeting, the same excuse will never be acceptable.
When a Cabinet Office official, acting as an official of the secretariat for the council, distributed the agenda item for the council entitled "(Nuclear power's) Coexistence with local communities" to the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, the Federation of Electric Power Companies and others concerned, he was told that, "Should they include Shiga Prefecture (which is cautious about reactivation of idled nuclear reactors)? If so the council meeting will be bogged down." Then, the agenda item was withdrawn.
While insisting that it was inappropriate to hand it out to power suppliers, Kondo said, "That was not an agenda item but a memo. If it was an agenda item, it should have been arranged in a Power Point format ... The secretariat sent it out through e-mail by mistake."
But the original draft report distributed at the secret meeting came in a Power Point format. Furthermore, it was distributed not by e-mail but it was handed out directly to people from the power industry at the meeting. When the cover-up issue was pointed out earlier this month, Goshi Hosono, the state minister in charge of nuclear accidents, stood behind Kondo. We will see how Hosono will respond to this latest scandal.