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Poor region of Japan is now very dependent on Rokkasho nuclear recycling project

Japan vows to cut its nuclear hoard but neighbours fear the opposite, By Motoko Rich, 25 Sept  2018 New York Times“………Pulling the plug would also deprive one of Japan’s poorest regions of an economic lifeline. Over the years, the central government has awarded nearly $3 billion in incentives to the prefecture, where political leaders reliably support Japan’s governing party.

Even inoperative, the plant employs more than 1 in 10 residents in Rokkasho and accounts for more than half the town’s tax revenues.

“It is now indispensable for Rokkasho,” said Kenji Kudo, the fourth generation to run his family’s clothing distribution company, which sells uniforms and protective gear to the plant.

As demand from local squid fishermen disappeared, he added, the plant “rescued our business.” The town has also received more than $555 million in government subsidies for hosting the facility, including funding for a 680-seat concert hall, an international school with just eight students and a new pool and gym complex that opened last year.

There are small reminders that the munificence comes with some risk.

A screen in the lobby of the concert hall reports the radiation level at 32 places around the prefecture, and a sign at a local nursing home warns residents not to use the baths “in case of nuclear disaster.”

Kaoru Sasaki, director of the nursing home, said she doubts the plant will ever operate given concerns about nuclear power around the country. “But we don’t talk about that among friends here,” she said. “It is so important to the community.”

The plant itself is sprawled across nearly 1,000 acres of farmland, surrounded by fields of solar panels and wind turbines.

Some 6,000 workers are installing steel nets to protect it against tornadoes and digging ditches for pipes to carry water from a swamp into its cooling towers. Inside a large control room, workers in turquoise jumpsuits mill about computer consoles, monitoring dormant machinery.

The final piece of the plant to come online will be a facility, now under construction, that will take a mix of plutonium and uranium and turn that into fuel. But no one knows what would happen if the government could not persuade communities to reopen and upgrade more reactors to use this type of fuel.

“Our only plan right now is that we want to start reprocessing in 2021,” said Koji Kosugi, general manager for international cooperation and nonproliferation at Japan Nuclear Fuel.

“But we do not yet know how it will be consumed. This is something that has to be worked out with the utilities and the Japanese government.”

One of the reasons Japan is so wedded to recycling may be that it does not want to confront the politically toxic question of what to do with its nuclear waste, much of which is being stored temporarily in cooling pools on the sites of its nuclear power plants.

Thomas M. Countryman, an Obama administration official who is now chairman of the nonpartisan Arms Control Association in Washington, said the Rokkasho plant is “in a sense a delaying tactic in order to put off the most difficult decision that any country has to face.”

One option, said Tatsujiro Suzuki, a nuclear scientist at Nagasaki University, is to turn Rokkasho itself into a nuclear waste storage facility.

Nuclear plants across Japan have sent waste that cannot be recycled to Rokkasho — steel drums full of ash, contaminated filters, steel pipes and protective clothing.

Huge concrete boxes holding the drums are lined up in vast dugouts on the grounds of the plant, and canisters holding highly radioactive waste are stacked nine deep in a cavernous underground room where only their bright orange lids poke out of the floor.

The government promised that the waste would only be stored here temporarily but never came up with a permanent plan. In Rokkasho, residents are still waiting for the recycling plant.

“If the government had asked the village to only accept waste in the first place,” said the mayor, Mamoru Toda, “I don’t think the village would have accepted it.”



September 26, 2018 - Posted by | business and costs, Japan, politics

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