14 Septembre 2012
The government plans to stick with its policy of supporting the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel as part of a fuel recycling program for the time being, it has been learned, although this appears to contradict the goal of ending nuclear power generation by the 2030s.
The fuel policy will be part of the new energy and environment strategy to be released Friday, according to sources.
A copy of the final draft of the document seen by The Yomiuri Shimbun says, "The government will fulfill its responsibilities concerning nuclear nonproliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy with respect to the international community, and continue with fuel reprocessing in line with the previous policy."
The strategy contains a commitment to discontinue all nuclear power plants by the 2030s. However, without running nuclear reactors, the reprocessing of spent fuel to extract plutonium, which is done mainly in Aomori Prefecture, would be unnecessary.
How the new energy policy would tackle the issue has been a focus of attention.
A reprocessing plant run by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, currently stores about 2,900 tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear plants nationwide.
The prefectural government has said it would send the spent fuel back to the plants if the government discontinued the fuel recycling program. Nuclear power plants would have a difficult time running without a place to store nuclear waste.
The draft of the policy appears to support contradictory goals--the Democratic Party of Japan's proposal to do away with nuclear power, and a vow to continue reprocessing nuclear fuel.
The government plans to submit legislation based on its new energy strategy, but political observers foresee the bill receiving a cool welcome by opposition parties.
The final draft also advocates effectively giving up on the troubled Monju project, an experimental fast-breeder reactor of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.
The strategy allows for an option in which Monju could be used to study how to reduce the radioactive waste in spent nuclear fuel, and then be decommissioned.
The final draft proposes that the government will use all policy measures available to idle all the nation's nuclear plants by the 2030s, that nuclear plants will be utilized until then if their safety can be confirmed, that there will be no new construction of nuclear power plants or nuclear reactors, and that the nuclear fuel reprocessing project will be reviewed through discussions with the relevant international organizations and other countries.
When it comes to nuclear fuel reprocessing and the fate of the nuclear fuel cycle that has emerged during discussion on Japan's future nuclear policy, the Aomori Prefectural Government stands firm on the issue.
"There is no policy to follow other than reprocessing. We will have them keep their promises," an Aomori Prefectural Government official said firmly, calling on the government to uphold its nuclear fuel cycle policy.
Aomori Prefecture is the location of the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant, whose future is swayed by Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy. The prefectural government and the village of Rokkasho have signed memorandums with the central government and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which operates the plant, stating that Aomori Prefecture will not be made a final disposal area for nuclear fuel, and if reprocessing becomes difficult, then spent nuclear will be transported outside the facility.
If the government withdraws from nuclear fuel reprocessing, Aomori Prefecture intends to send the spent nuclear fuel held at Rokkasho back to the nuclear power plants from which the fuel came. Furthermore, it plans to forbid the transportation of spent nuclear fuel destined for reprocessing to an interim storage facility that is being constructed in the prefectural city of Mutsu.
Behind the prefecture's strong stance is a sense of crisis over the possibility of the prefecture becoming the final disposal site for nuclear waste that has no other place to go.
At a meeting in January this year to decide on the outline for the government's new nuclear power policy, Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura fiercely protested that it was totally unacceptable to assume that things would somehow work out if the spent nuclear fuel in Aomori Prefecture was left there. All the same, it remains a fact that reprocessing has reaped precious finances for local bodies in the prefecture. As of fiscal 2011, the prefecture had received 233.4 billion yen in grants in connection with the use of land for nuclear fuel cycle and nuclear power plant facilities.
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. is the biggest company in the prefecture, employing about 1,400 people from Aomori Prefecture. As of fiscal 2010, it had issued contracts worth 509.5 billion yen for local companies. Rokkasho Mayor Kenji Furukawa has commented that if reprocessing ended, the future of the town would be threatened.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Sept. 12 continued providing working-level explanations on the issue to Aomori Prefecture and other bodies.
In addition, Akihisa Nagashima, a special adviser to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda on foreign affairs and security, and Hiroshi Ogushi, a parliamentary secretary at the Cabinet Office, visited the United States for talks with the U.S. government, which has expressed strong interest in Japan's nuclear energy policies.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told a news conference on Sept. 12, "We are carefully explaining the transition in current discussion (to U.S. officials)."