再処理稼働へ 「原発ゼロ」は青森への背信だ

The Yomiuri Shimbun (Sep. 6, 2012)
'Zero nuclear' policy would betray Aomori govt on reprocessing plant
再処理稼働へ 「原発ゼロ」は青森への背信だ(9月5日付・読売社説)

Japan is aiming to achieve a nuclear fuel cycle that can reuse the spent fuel generated from nuclear power plants.

The reprocessing plant being constructed by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, would be an essential part of this policy, and one major challenge for starting operations at the plant has been overcome.

The construction of the plant began in 1993 and has cost more than 2 trillion yen so far.

The process of vitrifying highly radioactive waste to allow for stable storage had been difficult in the final experimental stages, but test operations have finally succeeded and the plant will be finished after the government completes safety checks and other necessary steps have been taken.

The plant is meant to contribute to the efficient use of uranium resources and reduce radioactive waste. We believe it should be put into use as soon as possible.

However, the meandering discussions occurring in the government and ruling Democratic Party of Japan over the shift away from nuclear power are cause for concern. The question of whether the reprocessing plant will ever be started is now up in the air.


Immediate consequences

If the "zero nuclear" policy, currently seen as a leading option in the government's Energy and Environment Council, were adopted, the path to reusing spent nuclear waste would be barred. Operating the reprocessing plant would be meaningless.

The about 3,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel that has already been transferred from nuclear plants around the country to Rokkasho would have no place to go.

The Aomori prefectural government has demanded, in line with a memorandum exchanged with Japan Nuclear Fuel, that if the plant is not made operational, the spent fuel must be taken back by the power companies operating nuclear plants.

If this happened, all of the nation's nuclear plants would be filled to capacity with returned spent fuel, which would leave no room even to bring in new nuclear fuel to run the plants. Under such circumstances, no local government would consent to restarting a suspended nuclear reactor.

This could result in immediate confusion, well ahead of the future goal of "zero nuclear power."

Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura last month submitted a request to the government urging it to show a "realistic and feasible policy course," and questioned the wisdom of the "zero nuclear" option. The governor described the nuclear fuel cycle as "an essential policy to support a nation lacking in natural resources."


Govt owes Aomori answer

The governor's requests were apparently aimed at urging the government and the DPJ not to casually adopt the "zero nuclear" policy. We think the governor was quite right to express such views. The government should respond sincerely.

Reprocessing technology is a right granted to Japan as an exception by the United States, which is sensitive about nuclear proliferation, under the Japan-U.S. Nuclear Energy Agreement. This right would be lost with the "zero nuclear" policy.

Nuclear technologies that have been nurtured would surely wane, and no new human resources in this industry would be developed.

Recycling spent nuclear fuel under strict controls would also be helpful in preventing the fuel from being converted for military use.

China, South Korea and other countries are expanding their use of nuclear power. We believe the "zero nuclear" option would undermine Japan's voice in the international community.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 5, 2012)
(2012年9月5日01時07分 読売新聞)

by kiyoshimat | 2012-09-07 06:46 | 英字新聞

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