"Hosono Paper" – A Report about Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing – Part 2: "It’ll just heighten chaos."

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     This is the continuous article (the former one is here: http://wp.me/p16bjt-nv) about a report of Japan’s nuclear fuel reprocessing project written by a private consultative body of Minister Hosono (for the Restoration from and Prevention of Nuclear Accidents). The original article on the Chunichi (August 3) is written in Japanese.

     Let’s look at the environment in East Asian countries on the assumption that the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho-mura of Aomori Prefecture will accept their spent fuel.

     Korea currently has 23 nuclear reactors in operation. They have planned to construct about 20 more reactors and to raise the ratio of nuclear power generation up to 59% by 2030. It is an immense challenge for them to dispose the spent nuclear fuel. Yonhap News Agency, the largest news agency in South Korea, reported last month that Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Company had agreed to call on the U.S. to admit reprocessing used fuel in Korea.

     The U.S.- Korean Nuclear Power Pact will decide about the handling of Korea’s spent fuel in two years because Korea imports the nuclear element of uranium from America. If Korea could get the permission to reprocess their used fuel domestically, they would have at least two merits: 1) They could manufacture nuclear fuel by themselves, and 2) it would discourage North Korea, which is moving ahead with nuclear development. But the U.S. is showing reluctance to admit it because they are concerned about the possibility of Korea’s nuclear development.

     There are 15 nuclear power plants operating in China. They will construct more 26 facilities and have a total of 41 nuclear power reactors in three years. They are going to reprocess their spent fuel independently and to build a reprocessor with Areva SA in France.

     Taiwan has 6 plants and there are some possible countries and areas in Asia, such as Vietnam which has decided to import reactors from Japan, to ask Japan to dispose their spent nuclear fuel. But the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho-mura has not completed yet in spite of spending about 2.2 trillion yen.

     Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. announced on July 27th that they had finished the final test to encase high-level radioactive liquid waste after reprocessing in glass. They may solve some technically difficult problems at last, but will not be able to start to operate the reprocessor in October which is their target month. They have not completed the plant for MOX (plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel), either.

     Besides, reprocessing itself has uncertain prospects. The government provides guidelines about the ratio of dependence on nuclear energy in the future and will choose one of these: 1) 0%, 2) 15%, 3) 20~25%. If Japan chooses 1), we will not have any reasons to maintain the reprocessing plant. And if it chooses 2) or 3), we will not only reprocess the spent fuel but also bury some.

     About accepting other countries’ used nuclear fuel, Mr. Takao Ohsawa in Public Relations Office for Nuclear Energy Regions says, “We recognize the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho-mura as the place for reprocessing domestic spent fuel,” and Mr. Shigehiro Ito, the spokesman in the Tokyo Office of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., just comments, “We’re now devoting all our effort to complete the reprocessor.”

     Japan has paid lots of money for disposing its spent fuel to England and France. Some thinks the government tries to earn money as the opposite side in spite of the fact that the reprocessing project has not progressed. Mr. Keiko Takeda, the journalist, says, “Probably the idea of overseas development on the reprocessing plant was born to extend the life of the nuclear fuel cycle project which is on the rocks, but it’s a natural evolution. It has a commercial potential because it’s too costly to reprocess the spent fuel internally for the countries which have a few nuclear power plants.”

     On the contraty, Ms. Masako Sawai in Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center opposes against the recommendation saying, “We don’t have any corroborating technical evidences to reprocess the used nuclear fuel. So we shouldn’t accept other countries’ ones irresponsibly. Does the government think that they can sell nuclear reactors with reprocessing system to other countries?” She also appeals, “The countries which buys nuclear power systems from Japan will have plutonium produced by reprocessing fuel. It’ll be a problem from a standpoint of non-proliferation. We haven’t solved the issue of reprocessing our own spent nuclear fuel yet. We also haven’t progressed handling of the nuclear accident in Fukushima yet. Under these circumstances, the idea will just heighten chaos.”

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