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Rally opposes proposal for Fukushima wastewater 


July 13, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima continuing, opposition to nuclear | Leave a comment

Movement in Japan to suspend Olympic Games

(FILES) This file photo taken on February 29, 2020 shows a protester holding placards during a demonstration against the Olympics, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and nuclear energy, near the “J-Village” which will host the start of the Olympic torch relay in Naraha, Fukushima prefecture. – The Olympic torch relay that begins in Japan this month will start from Fukushima, emphasising what the government dubs the “Recovery Olympics”, but not everyone in the region will be cheering. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) / TO GO WITH nuclear-Fukushima-Oly-2020-JPN-Japan,FOCUS by Karyn NISHIMURA

Increasing voices in Japan for the cancellation of the Tokyo Olympics

Dear  Friends,

On 7th June Mr Yukio Hatoyama, former Prime Minister of Japan, addressed me a message, expressing his views on the Tokyo Olympics : ”I always thought that instead of spending money on the Tokyo Olympics, the state should use these funds for the decontamination of the affected areas and to compensate the Fukushima nuclear disaster victims.“

He has expressed deep sympathy for the athletes placed in unbearable uncertainties preparing for the postponed Olympics. He urges that the sooner the decision the better for the athletes, since we all know that the Corona pandemic will oblige the Tokyo Olympic Games to be cancelled.

This message has given rise to reactions both in Japan and abroad.As an example,I am sharing with you a mail sent to me by a Japanese living in Germany.

In addition to the Covid-19 crisis, Japan is being cruelly assailed by natural disasters, unprecedented rainfalls and subsequent floods and landslides among others.

Japan faces a national crisis.

With warmest and highest regards,

Mitsuhei Murata

(Former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland)

——– Forwarded Message ——–Dear Dr Alex Dear Dr Jörg Schmid;

cc: Mr Mitsuhei Murata, Mr Etsuji Watanabe

Recently I have acquired interesting information from Mr Mitsuhei Murata, former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland, and Mr Etsuji Watanabe, a member of the ACSIR (Association for Citizens and Scientists Concerned about Internal Radiation Exposures), who are two of the leading lights in the anti-nuclear movements in Japan, that there is increasing support within the Japanese society for the complete cancellation, rather than postponement of the Tokyo Olympic Games.

On 7th June Mr Yukio Hatoyama, former Prime Minister of Japan, wrote to Mr Mitsuhei Murata, expressing his views on the Tokyo Olympics : ”I always thought that instead of spending money on the Tokyo Olympics, the state should use these funds for the decontamination of the affected areas and to compensate the Fukushima nuclear disaster victims.“

Subsequently Mr Murata wrote to Mr Thomas Bach, President of the IOC in order to convey this important message :

Dear President Thomas Bach,

Please allow me to inform you of a message a sent to me yesterday from former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

He has expressed deep sympathy for the athletes placed in unbearable uncertainties preparing for the postponed Olympics. He urges that the sooner the decision the better for the athletes, since we all know that the Corona pandemic will oblige the Tokyo Olympic Games to be cancelled.

In a press interview article published in January 2016,he made public his plea to consecrate maximum efforts to bringing Fukushima under control.
He has proven himself to be far-sighted. His vision for the future is in conformity with the dawning new world.

With highest and warmest regards,

Mitsuhei Murata
(Former Japanese Ambassador to Switzerland)

Mr Etsuji Watanabe told me that an overwhelming number of anti-nuclear activists are calling for the immediate cancellation of the Olympics. There will be demonstrations on 24th July, on which the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games were to commence, in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo. They will be demanding to stop the Olympic Games.

Best regards,

July 13, 2020 Posted by | Japan, opposition to nuclear | Leave a comment

Fukushima nuclear waste decision also a human rights issue

Fukushima nuclear waste decision also a human rights issue

 By Baskut Tuncak, KYODO NEWS – In a matter of weeks, the government of Japan will have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world how much it values protecting human rights and the environment and to meet its international obligations.

In the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, myself and other U.N. special rapporteurs consistently raised concerns about the approaches taken by the government of Japan. We have been concerned that raising of “acceptable limits” of radiation exposure to urge resettlement violated the government’s human rights obligations to children.

We have been concerned of the possible exploitation of migrants and the poor for radioactive decontamination work. Our most recent concern is how the government used the COVID-19 crisis to dramatically accelerate its timeline for deciding whether to dump radioactive wastewater accumulating at Fukushima Daiichi in the ocean.

Setting aside the duties incumbent on Japan to consult and protect under international law, it saddens me to think that a country that has suffered the horrors of being the only country on which not one but two nuclear bombs were dropped during war, would continue on a such a path in dealing with the radioactive aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

Releasing the toxic wastewater collected from the Fukushima nuclear plant would be, without question, a terrible blow to the livelihood of local fishermen. Regardless of the health and environmental risks, the reputational damage would be irreparable, an invisible and permanent scar upon local seafood. No amount of money can replace the loss of culture and dignity that accompany this traditional way of life for these communities.

The communities of Fukushima, so devastated by the tragic events of March 11, 2011, have in recent weeks expressed their concerns and opposition to the discharge of the contaminated water into their environment. It is their human right to an environment that allows for living a life in dignity, to enjoy their culture, and to not be exposed deliberately to additional radioactive contamination. Those rights should be fully respected and not be disregarded by the government in Tokyo.

The discharge of nuclear waste to the ocean could damage Japan’s international relations. Neighboring countries are already concerned about the release of large volumes of radioactive tritium and other contaminants in the wastewater.

Japan has a duty under international law to prevent transboundary environmental harm. More specifically, under the London Convention, Japan has an obligation to take precaution with the respect to the dumping of waste in the ocean. Given the scientific uncertainty of the health and environmental impacts of exposure to low-level radiation, the disposal of this wastewater would be completely inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of this law.

ndigenous peoples have an internationally recognized right to free, prior and informed consent. This includes the disposal of waste in their waters and actions that may contaminate their food. No matter how small the Japanese government believes this contamination will be of their water and food, there is an unquestionable obligation to consult with potentially affected indigenous peoples that it has not met.

The Japanese government has not, and cannot, assure itself of meaningful consultations as required under international human rights law during the current pandemic. There is no justification for such a dramatically accelerated timeline for decision making during the covid-19 crisis. Japan has the physical space to store wastewater for many years.

I have reported annually to the U.N. Human Rights Council for the past six years. Whether the topic was on child rights or worker’s rights, in nearly each and every one of those discussion at the United Nations, the situation of Fukushima Daiichi is raised by concerned observers for the world to hear. Intervening organizations have pleaded year-after-year for the Japanese government to extend an invitation to visit so I can offer recommendations to improve the situation. I regret that my mandate is coming to an end without such an opportunity despite my repeated requests to visit and assess the situation.

The disaster of 2011 cannot be undone. However, Japan still has an opportunity to minimize the damage. In my view, there are grave risks to the livelihoods of fishermen in Japan and also to its international reputation. Again, I urge the Japanese government to think twice about its legacy: as a true champion of human rights and the environment, or not.

(Baskut Tuncak has served as U.N. special rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes since 2014.)

July 9, 2020 Posted by | civil liberties, Japan, wastes | Leave a comment

Testing for radiation in Fukushima – the continued anxiety

Nine years on, Fukushima’s mental health fallout lingers

As radiation from the Fukushima nuclear accident subsides, a damaging social and psychological legacy continues, Wired

By SOPHIE KNIGHT 24 June 20,  If it were not illegal, Ayumi Iida would love to test a dead body. Recently, she tested a wild boar’s heart. She’s also tested the contents of her vacuum cleaner and the filter of her car’s air conditioner. Her children are so used to her scanning the material contents of their life that when she cuts the grass, her son asks, “Are you going to test that too?”

Iida, who is 35, forbids her children from entering the sea or into forests. She agonises over which foods to buy. But no matter what she does, she can’t completely protect her children from radiation. It even lurks in their urine.

“Maybe he’s being exposed through the school lunch,” she says, puzzling over why her nine-year-old son’s urine showed two-and-a-half times the concentration of caesium that hers did, when she takes such care shopping. “Or maybe it’s from the soil outside where he plays. Or is it because children have a faster metabolism, so he flushes more out? We don’t know.”

Iida is a public relations officer at Tarachine, a citizens’ lab in Fukushima, Japan, that tests for radioactive contamination released from the 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Agricultural produce grown in the area is subject to government and supermarket testing, but Tarachine wants to provide people with an option to test anything, from foraged mushrooms to dust from their home. Iida tests anything unknown before feeding it to her four children. Recently, she threw out some rice she received as a present after finding its level of contamination – although 80 times lower than the government limit – unacceptably high. “My husband considered eating it ourselves, but it’s too much to cook two batches of rice for every meal. In the end we fed it to some seagulls.”

Tarachine is one of several citizen labs founded in the wake of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011, which obliterated a swathe of the country’s northwest coast and killed more than 18,000 people. The wave knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, triggering a meltdown in three of the reactor cores and hydrogen explosions that sprayed radionuclides across the Fukushima prefecture. More than 160,000 people were forced to evacuate. A government decontamination programme has allowed evacuation orders to be lifted in many municipalities, but one zone is still off limits, with only short visits permitted.

Driven by a desire to find out precisely how much radiation there was in the environment and where, a group of volunteers launched Tarachine in Iwaki, a coastal city that escaped the worst of the radioactive plume and was not evacuated, through a crowdfunding campaign in November 2011. It is now registered as a non-profit organisation, and runs on donations.

In a windowless room controlled for temperature and humidity and dotted with screens showing graphs, two women sort and label samples, either collected by staff or sent in by the public: soil from back gardens, candied grasshoppers, seawater. In the beginning, mothers sent in litres of breastmilk. Tarachine initially charged a tenth of what a university lab would charge to make the testing accessible to as many people as possible; last year, they made it free.

To test for caesium-137, the main long-term contaminant released from the plant, staff finely chop samples and put them inside a gamma counter, a cylindrical grey machine that looks like a centrifuge. Tarachine’s machines are more accurate than the more commonly accessible measuring tools: at some public monitoring posts, shoppers can simply place their produce on top of a device to get a reading, but this can be heavily skewed by background radiation (waving a Geiger counter over food won’t give an accurate reading for the same reason). Tarachine tries to get as precise readings as possible; the lab’s machines give results to one decimal place, and they try to block out excess background radiation by placing bottles of water around the machines.

Measuring for strontium, a type of less penetrative beta radiation, is even more complicated: the food has to first be roasted to ash before being mixed with an acid and sifted. The whole process takes two to three days. Tarachine received training and advice from university radiation labs around the country, but the volunteers had to experiment with everyday food items that scientists had never tested. “There was no recipe like ‘Roast the leaf for two hours at so-and-so Celsius’, you know?” says Iida. “If it’s too burnt it’s no good. We also had to experiment with types of acid and how much of the acid to add.”

Japanese government standards for radiation are some of the most stringent in the world: the upper limit of radioactive caesium in food such as meat and vegetables is 100 becquerels per kilogram, compared with 1,250 in the European Union and 1,200 in the US (the becquerel unit measures how much ionizing radiation is released due to radioactive decay). Many supermarkets adhere to a tighter limit, proudly advertising that their produce contains less than 40 becquerels, or as few as 10. Tarachine aims for just 1 becquerel.

“How I think about it is, how much radiation was there in local rice before the accident? It was about 0.01 becquerel. So that’s what I want the standard to be,” says Iida. Continue reading

June 25, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima continuing, radiation, social effects | Leave a comment

Across Asia-Pacific, trust in govts rose, except in Japan


June 22, 2020

People’s trust in the governments of the Asia-Pacific rose, following a global pattern, except for Japan, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update.

Trust in the government rose in China, India and South Korea, but declined by 5 points in Japan to 38 per cent, in Edelman’s Trust Barometer Spring Update report.

“The outlier in Asia, and indeed the world, is Japan,” noted Mr Stephen Kehoe, president and chief executive officer of Edelman’s Asia Pacific operations.

“Forced to reckon with early global attention due to the cruise ship stranded in the port of Yokohama, Japan appears to have learned few lessons from this crisis, or indeed, in the nine years since Fukushima,” he said in an article on Edelman’s website, referring to the coronavirus-hit Diamond Princess stranded in Yokohoma in February, with 3,700 people and crew on board. In the end, slightly over 700 people were found to be infected while 13 died, earning the government criticism for the delay in handling those infected.

“This, perhaps combined with the delayed decision to impose a state of emergency and subsequent reported missteps in the distribution of personal protective equipment, has resulted in a near-total collapse of confidence by the Japanese in their government to handle the ongoing crisis,” he added.

The March 2011 triple disaster in Fukushima of a tsunami, earthquake and an accident at the Daiichi nuclear power plant left more than 20,000 people dead or missing.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been rapped for his handling of the coronavirus situation. A poll by public broadcaster NHK from May showed his approval rating had dropped to 37 per cent while another poll by Mainichi Shimbun showed his approval rating was only 27 per cent.

Elsewhere in Asia, people showed more trust in their governments, with the level in China up five points to 95 per cent, India (up 6 points to 87 per cent), and South Korea (up 16 points to 67 per cent).

Those surveyed also showed a high tolerance of government surveillance for public safety. The level in China was 30 points ahead of the global average (at 61 per cent), while in India it was 17 points over, and in South Korea, it was in line with the global average.

“Japan’s appetite for surveillance is the lowest in our sample at 44 per cent, continuing to reflect long-held beliefs around constitutional freedom, which date back to the aftermath of World War II,” noted Mr Kehoe.



June 22, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

It’s Not Techno-Angst That’s Driving East Asia to Abandon Nuclear Power

In the East Asian democracies, nuclear energy is tied to an increasingly unpopular political and economic model.

klmmùWorkers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant pose for portraits on Feb. 23, 2016, in Okuma, Japan.


June 17, 2020

Western discussions about nuclear energy in East Asia usually start with the Fukushima disaster and end with efforts to address climate change. But anti-nuclear sentiment in Asia looks nothing like that in the West, where it was birthed during the Jane Fonda era and is still based on long-debunked claims about the intrinsic dangers of accidents and nuclear waste. The techno-angst and apocalyptic fears that have always animated Western environmentalism are largely foreign to Asian discussions of nuclear energy, climate change, and similar environmental concerns.The techno-angst and apocalyptic fears that have always animated Western environmentalism are largely foreign to Asian discussions of nuclear energy and climate change. After all, following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that led to a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, it was Germany—not Japan—that immediately decided to permanently phase out nuclear power, even if it meant that its carbon emissions would rise.

Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan may nonetheless take a decisive turn against nuclear power. The reasons have little to do with public fears of nuclear energy but are tied to long-standing demands for political and economic reform. That’s because the nuclear industry in each of these three countries is tied to a highly contested political and economic model that the reformers are pressing to change.

In April, the anti-nuclear Democratic Party of Korea swept to the most dominating electoral victory in South Korean history. In January, Taiwan’s reform-minded Democratic Progressive Party, which has proposed phasing out the country’s nuclear power stations, also won by a landslide. Meanwhile, both Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the country’s last major pro-nuclear party, face worsening poll numbers as a major election approaches in 2021.

The proximate causes of these political shifts have little to do with nuclear or environmental policies. South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s smashing victory followed his exemplary management of the national response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In Taiwan, it was China’s brutal crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong that heavily tipped the scales in favor of the Democratic Progressive Party, which has taken a far more defiant position on relations with China than its main rival, the Kuomintang. Japan’s LDP is languishing in the polls because of its failure to revitalize the country’s long-stagnant economy, a task made all the more challenging by the pandemic.

Dig a little deeper, however, and the same underlying political dynamics have undermined support for nuclear energy. In all three nations, the nuclear power sector has become closely identified with long-entrenched political parties and the power of state bureaucracies and industry groups over economic life. Fukushima undoubtedly amplified anti-nuclear sentiment in the region, but opposition to nuclear power has been a proxy for political and economic reform for decades.

In all three nations, state-led nuclear energy development took place during prolonged periods of political dominance by conservative parties with strong ties to industry and business interests. In the aftermath of the Chinese Civil War in the 1940s and the Korean War in the 1950s, respectively, South Korea and Taiwan were led by authoritarian governments that focused on economic development while severely restricting political freedoms. South Korea only held its first free elections in 1988; Taiwan followed in 1992. While Japan has conducted democratic elections since the 1950s, the LPD has maintained nearly continuous control.

The nuclear industries of Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan are thus the product of authoritarian or de facto one-party states, where the ruling party passed control over the energy sector (and many other parts of the economy) to state-owned corporations, government-issued monopolies, or quasi-cartels of favored companies. State-owned Taiwan Power Company controlled Taiwan’s power sector until the electricity market became more liberalized after 1995. In South Korea, the government-operated Korea Electric Power Corporation still holds a monopoly on power generation and grid infrastructure; one of its subsidiaries, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, operates all nuclear reactors. In Japan, the power sector consists of 10 regional monopolies that operate in close coordination with the powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry.

And just as the nuclear establishment was part and parcel of postwar economic planning by what were effectively one-party states, opposition to that establishment has become a cause for those who demand political and economic reform.

Evolving nuclear policies in East Asia reflect a changing balance of power that is likely to persist. In Taiwan, the conservative Kuomintang’s aging demographic base and support for closer ties with mainland China now appears out of touch with a younger electorate increasingly distrustful of China and hostile to reunification. In South Korea, demographic shifts and evolving public opinion have favored reforms on issues ranging from diplomacy with North Korea to checks on powerful corporations. In both South Korea and Taiwan, successful responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have boosted the credibility of reformist leaders.

Even as the nuclear issue is taken up by reform parties, public support for nuclear energy remains strong in South Korea and Taiwan, and has been growing again in Japan.The political situation in Japan, by contrast, is more uncertain. With the pandemic set to erase the LDP’s recent successes in controlling the national debt and boost the economy, the party also faces a leadership transition when Abe steps down after his current term as prime minster, as he must according to LDP rules. But anti-nuclear opposition parties remain weak and have almost no record of winning national elections, let alone governing—an enormous disadvantage at a moment when the economy is struggling, China has reemerged as the region’s dominant power, and the public health crisis is far from over.

Even as the nuclear issue is taken up by reform parties, public support for nuclear energy remains strong in South Korea and Taiwan, and has been growing again in Japan. In Taiwan, 59 percent of voters supported a 2018 referendum to retain the nation’s nuclear power stations. In South Korea, support for nuclear energy dipped in the wake of Fukushima but has since rebounded to around 70 percent. Opinion in Japan remains divided, but support has slowly rebounded since the Fukushima accident.

June 22, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

COVID-19 sheds doubts on Tokyo Olympics 2021

June 20, 2020 Posted by | health, Japan | Leave a comment

Fukushima: Japan Must Not Ignore Human Rights Obligations On Nuclear Waste Disposal – UN Experts, 

June 15, 2020 Posted by | Japan, wastes | Leave a comment

Tepco and Toshiba join forces to upgrade Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant

KKTepco Holdings Corporation and Toshiba Energy Systems Corporation have signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a company to carry out safety upgrade measures at unit 6 of Tepco’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant.


In December 2017, Tepco received approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to change the installation of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa units 6 and 7. It is currently working to obtain approval for the construction plan for unit 7. In parallel with the examination, it is working on preparations for the application for construction plan approval for unit 6.

“Tepco and Toshiba have brought together technologies and knowledge that cross-industry boundaries to jointly establish a company responsible for safety measures for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Station 6,” the companies said. “We aim to establish a new company in mid-June and aim to start a full-scale business in July 2020. Going forward, we will aim to improve safety and quality by maximising the synergistic and complementary effects of the two companies toward the completion of safety measures for the Kashiwazaki Kariwa 6.”

The 1356MWe Kashiwazaki Kariwa 6, a boiling water reactor (BWR), began commercial operation in 1996.

The new company, KK6 Safety Measures Joint Venture Co Ltd, has an investment of JPY 300 million ($2.8m) and capital of JPY150 million with Toshiba and Tepco each holding 50%.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa was unaffected by the 2011 earthquake, although its reactors were all previously offline for up to three years following the 2007 Niigata-Chuetsu earthquake, which caused damage to the site but did not to the reactors. While the units were shut, work was carried out to improve the plant’s earthquake resistance. Currently, Tepco is focusing on units 6 and 7 while it deals with the Fukushima clean-up. The two units have been offline for periodic inspections since March 2012 and August 2011, and restarting them would increase Tepco’s earnings by an estimated JPY100 billion a year.

Units 6 and 7 at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa are the first BWRs to meet Japan’s revised regulatory standards. Tepco expects to complete safety upgrades at the units by December 2020.

In 2017, Tepco received initial approval from NRA to restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 6 and 7. The plant’s total capacity of 8,212MWe represents 20% of Japan’s nuclear capacity. Kashiwazaki-Kariwa is Tepco’s only remaining nuclear plant after it announced plans to shut its Fukushima Daini station, near the Fukushima Daichi plant destroyed in the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

June 11, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Government, nuclear industry badly in need of a reality check

hkjlklJapan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s spent nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture

May 15, 2020

In his 1991 book “Rokkashomura no Kiroku” (Record of Rokkasho village), journalist Satoshi Kamata documented the displacement of residents for a planned large development project in the northern village.

Kamata reproduced an essay written by an elementary school pupil, whose school was earmarked for closure because of the megaproject.

“I detest development more than I could ever say,” the youngster wrote.

The villagers were promised a rosy future, with rows of factories turning their rural community into a vibrant urban center. But none of that happened, and the school closed in 1984.

“All that talk about the factories was a lie,” the child lamented. “I truly hate being made to feel so sad and lonely.”

Instead of this development project that never materialized, the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture ended up hosting a facility for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel.

A series of delays held up the project for years, but the Nuclear Regulation Authority finally ruled the plant’s safety measures acceptable under its new standards on May 13.

The Rokkasho plant was meant to be the “nucleus” of the nation’s nuclear fuel recycling program of the future, with the purpose of minimizing nuclear waste by reusing spent fuel.

The reprocessed fuel was to be burned in fast-breeder reactors, but efforts to develop a viable fast-breeder reactor have gone nowhere. Attempts to use the reprocessed fuel in conventional nuclear reactors have also stalled.

The whole project has effectively become a proverbial pie in the sky.

But neither the government nor utilities would acknowledge this reality and review the project, apparently because they fear the issue of nuclear waste will become the focus of attention.

I wonder how long they are going to keep their heads in the sand without addressing the thorny problem of how to dispose of nuclear waste.

Here’s a riddle: What cannot be seen when your eyes are open, but can be seen when your eyes are closed? The answer is a dream.

Where the nuclear fuel recycling program is concerned, I imagine the nation’s nuclear community must be dreaming or hallucinating.


June 11, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Japan should end its nonsensical effort to recycle nuclear fuel

jjlklmA view of the under-construction reprocessing plant, seen from the Obuchi-numa swamp in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, on May 12.

May 14, 2020

Japanese nuclear regulators have endorsed the safety of a contentious plant to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. 

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on May 13 approved a draft report on the safety inspection of the reprocessing plant being built in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.

The report says the plant meets the new nuclear safety standards introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The NRA’s decision represents a big step forward toward bringing the long-delayed Rokkasho reprocessing plant online.

Japan’s policy program to establish a nuclear fuel recycling system to recover plutonium from spent nuclear fuel to be reused in reactors, however, is already bankrupt beyond redemption. Operating the reprocessing plant simply does not make sense because of the many problems it entails with regard to nuclear proliferation, cost effectiveness, energy security and other important policy issues.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration should change its policy concerning nuclear fuel recycling. It would be irresponsible to maintain this unsustainable national policy aimlessly simply because of the NRA’s verdict that the plant meets the new safety standards.

The government and the electric power industry have been promoting the concept of recycling separated plutonium back into the fuel of reactors as a valuable “semi-homemade” energy source for a nation without much natural resources.

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant, the core facility for this strategy, was originally scheduled to be completed in 1997, but the deadline has been delayed as many as 24 times due to a series of technological glitches and other problems.

The plant started a trial run in 2006, but the process was plagued by malfunctions and suspended after the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.

The NRA, which was created after the accident, spent six years carefully assessing the safety of the reprocessing plant. It was the body’s first safety screening mission for a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility.

Despite the nuclear watchdog’s effective endorsement of its safety, the plant still has a long way to go before it becomes ready for full-scale operation. The details of its design will be scrutinized while the work to install required safety measures has yet to be carried out.

It is unclear whether the plant will be completed in fiscal 2021, the new deadline set by the operator. Winning the consent of the local community is another challenge that has to be overcome before the plant can come on stream.

At nuclear power plants across the nation, growing amounts of spent nuclear fuel are waiting to be shipped to the reprocessing plant. At some nuclear plants, there is not much room left in the spent fuel pools. The power industry warns that there could be disruptions in power generation unless the reprocessing plant starts operating.

The Rokkasho plant is designed to reprocess up to 800 tons of spent fuel annually to extract plutonium. It is true that the facility would help prevent a situation where there is no room left in the pools.

The plant, when it operates at full capacity, could extract as much as seven tons of plutonium from spent reactor fuel a year. The problem is that there will be few plausible ways to use the material.

The plan to develop a fast neutron reactor that can burn and breed plutonium, which was supposed to be the key technology for plutonium consumption, has gone awry after it was decided that Japan’s “Monju” prototype sodium-cooled fast-breeder reactor should be decommissioned following a sodium leak accident.

There is no plan to develop a new demonstration fast-breeder reactor to succeed the Monju.

The Japanese government then considered participating in France’s Advanced Sodium Technical Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) project to build a prototype sodium-cooled nuclear reactor. But the idea was dropped after the French government decided to scale down and possibly pull the plug on the project.

Japan’s plan to burn so-called MOX (mixed oxide) fuel, which is usually plutonium blended with natural uranium, in existing nuclear reactors has also failed to make progress as fast as the government expected. Currently, only four reactors are using MOX fuel, far less than the industry’s target of operating 16 to 18 MOX reactors.

In short, there is little prospect for massive consumption of plutonium in this nation, at least in the near future.

Japan has a stockpile of 46 tons of weapons-usable plutonium, enough for producing 6,000 atomic bombs. Japan has made an international commitment to reducing its plutonium stock.

If Japan starts extracting plutonium from spent nuclear fuel through reprocessing, the international community will become doubtful of its commitment to reducing its plutonium stockpile despite being the only country to have suffered the devastation of atomic bombings.

Japan could even be suspected of harboring an ambition to develop and possess nuclear weapons in the future.

The government plans to limit the amount of plutonium extracted from spent fuel to less than the volume consumed at the MOX reactors.

But reprocessing spent reactor fuel to recover plutonium simply does not make sense in the first place when the amount of material stored in Japan should be slashed.



The nuclear fuel recycling policy is also losing its economic rationale as well due to ballooning costs.

Even ordinary nuclear power generation is losing its competitiveness against other energy sources because of higher costs. The cost of building the reprocessing plant is now estimated at 2.9 trillion yen ($27.13 billion), four times higher than the original estimate. The total amount to be shelled out for the project, including operational and scrapping costs, is projected to be nearly 14 trillion yen.

Most major industrial nations have given up on the idea of nuclear fuel recycling as not being worth the cost. All the other countries that are still pursuing this path, including China and Russia, are nuclear powers. Most of these projects are strategic state-financed efforts that disregard costs.

But the reprocessing and MOX reactor projects in Japan are private-sector businesses. The costs involved have to be passed onto consumers through higher electricity bills.

The government and the industry should not be allowed to continue pursuing this unreasonable nuclear fuel policy at the expense of consumers.

In many other parts of the world, renewable energy sources are fast gaining ground, eroding the share of nuclear power.

In addition to sharp declines in costs, the fact that solar and wind power is a purely “homemade” energy source for any country is accelerating the trend.

If Japan really places a high policy priority on energy security, it would make much more sense for it to expand “purely homemade” energy sources than promote a “semi-homemade” one.

But the government continues sticking to the nation’s traditional nuclear power policy, putting a damper on growth in renewable energy production.

If the government decides to scuttle the nuclear fuel recycling agenda, it will immediately face the sticky challenge of deciding how to dispose of spent nuclear fuel.

But the project should not be kept alive through irresponsible collusion between the government and the power industry to avoid tackling this challenge.

Political leaders should make the tough decision as soon as possible to put the nation on a path toward a new energy future.

June 11, 2020 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Green light for Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant, but is it viable?


Aomori’s Rokkasho nuclear plant gets green light but hurdles remain,   Japan Times, BY ERIC JOHNSTON, STAFF WRITER, MAY 31, 2020, OSAKA – On May 13, the Nuclear Regulation Authority announced that the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, had met new safety standards created after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami.

The NRA’s approval means the long-troubled and controversial plant has moved closer to going into operation. Here’s a look at the Rokkasho plant and the problems it has faced.

What is the Rokkasho reprocessing plant?    The plant at Rokkasho is a 3.8 million square meter facility designed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s nuclear reactors.

Construction began in 1993. Once in operation, the plant’s maximum daily reprocessing capacity will be a cumulative total of 800 tons per year.

During reprocessing, uranium and plutonium are extracted, and the Rokkasho plant is expected to generate up to eight tons of plutonium annually. Both are then turned into a mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel at a separate MOX fabrication plant, also located in Rokkasho, for use in commercial reactors. Construction on the MOX facility began in 2010 and it’s expected to be completed in 2022.

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant can store up to 3,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s power plants on-site. It’s nearly full however, with over 2,900 tons of high-level waste already waiting to be reprocessed.

Why has it taken until now for the Rokkasho plant to secure approval from the nuclear watchdog?  Decades of technical problems and the new safety standards for nuclear power that went into effect after the 2011 triple meltdown at the power plant in Fukushima Prefecture have delayed Rokkasho’s completion date 24 times so far. It took six years for the plant to win approval under the post-3/11 safety standards.

There has also long been concern and unease over the entire project — and not just among traditional anti-nuclear activists — which the government has been forced to address. Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state pursuing reprocessing. But as far back as the 1970s, as Japan was debating a nuclear reprocessing program, the United States became concerned about a plant producing plutonium that could be used for a nuclear weapons program.

The issue was raised at a Feb. 1, 1977, meeting between U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale and Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.

“Reprocessing facilities which could produce weapons grade material are simply bomb factories,” noted a declassified U.S. State Department cable on the meeting. “We want to cooperate (with Japan) to keep the problem under control.”

…….. technical mishaps led to plans being made and then scrapped for many years, while arms control experts continued to worry that Japan could end up stockpiling plutonium that could lead to proliferation problems.

After the 2011 disaster, the NRA created tougher measures to minimize damage from natural disasters, forcing more construction and upgrades at the plant, leading to higher costs.

The Tokai plant halted operations in 2007. The decision to scrap it was made in 2014, as it was judged to be unable to meet the new safety standards. But little progress is being made, due to uncertainty over where to store all of the radioactive waste.

Safety concerns over the Rokkasho plant have remained, especially since 2017 when it was revealed that Japan Nuclear Fuel had not carried out mandatory safety standards for 14 years

By the time of the NRA announcement on May 13, the price tag for work at the Rokkasho plant had reached nearly ¥14 trillion.

What happens next?  The NRA is soliciting public comment on its decision until June 12, but the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry is expected to formally approve the decision. After that, the Aomori governor would be asked to give his approval, though that is not a legal requirement. The last bureaucratic hurdles would then have been cleared to start operations at the plant by the spring of 2022.

However, there are other issues that could force a delay to the start of reprocessing. Japan had originally envisioned MOX fuel powering between 16 and 18 of the nation’s 54 commercial reactors that were operating before 2011, in place of conventional uranium.

But only four reactors are using it out of the current total of nine officially in operation. MOX fuel is more expensive than conventional uranium fuel, raising questions about how much reprocessed fuel the facilities would need, or want…….

Japan finds itself caught between promises to the international community to reduce its plutonium stockpile through reprocessing at Rokkasho, and questions about whether MOX is still an economically, and politically, viable resource — given the expenses involved and the availability of other fossil fuel and renewable energy resources

June 1, 2020 Posted by | Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Coronavirus pandemic hampers Japan’s nuclear regulators’ probe into Fukushima disaster

Nuclear regulators’ Fukushima crisis probe hit by coronavirus, May 30, 2020 (Mainichi Japan)  TOKYO (Kyodo) — A probe by nuclear regulators into the causes of the March 2011 Fukushima crisis has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic, with the dispatch of staff from Tokyo postponed for fear of spreading infection among the some 4,000 on-site decommissioning workers.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority had resumed its investigation last October, deeming radiation levels in some areas of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant had lowered sufficiently enough, nearly a decade since the disaster.

NRA officials had repeatedly traveled to the site from Tokyo and succeeded last December in filming scattered debris and a damaged ceiling on the third floor of the No. 3 reactor building, where a hydrogen explosion occurred during the crisis triggered by the quake-tsunami disaster.

In late March, the watchdog set seven priorities in conducting the probe for the time being, including checking the radiation levels on the fourth floor of the No. 3 reactor building, and radiation contamination levels at the No. 2 reactor facility.

The NRA originally intended to send its staff to the plant every one or two weeks in April and May, but the plan came to a halt following the government’s declaration of a state of emergency over the coronavirus on April 7 for Tokyo and six other prefectures, which was expanded nationwide on April 16.

“It would be impermissible should the virus be brought from Tokyo in any case” to the Fukushima complex, NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa said.

The nuclear watchdog was compelled to cancel the planned dispatch of its staff for the probe because any coronavirus infection among the employees at the plant could stop their decommissioning work.

The state of emergency declaration was lifted on Monday for the entire nation, but the NRA fears it may take even more time before staff can enter the site again.

Further delays in the resumption of the probe could affect the NRA’s goal of compiling a report by the end of the year.

“We can’t do it during the summer period,” a senior NRA official said, as it will be impossible to carry out an investigation under the summer heat wearing heavy radiation protection gear.

The NRA is looking to restart sending the staff from the fall, according to sources close to the matter.

June 1, 2020 Posted by | health, Japan, safety | Leave a comment

Time that Japan faced up to the folly of its nuclear fuel cycle dream

As the situation stands, plutonium will start to pile up with no prospects of it being consumed. Reducing the amount produced is also an issue that needs to be addressed.

The United States and Britain have already pulled out of a nuclear fuel cycle.

May 19, 2020 Posted by | Japan, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

3600 working in Nuclear power plants in Japan – concerns raised over coronavirus

N-reactor inspection cannot abide by physical distancing rules, causing coronavirus fear in locals, April 29 & May 3, 2020

The No.3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO)’s Oi nuclear power plant (Oi Town, Fukui Pref.) will soon undergo its regular inspection. During this overhaul, about 900 utility workers will come from other prefectures amid a nationwide voluntary ban on leaving home in the fight against COVID-19.
Local citizens are concerned that this will run counter to the government instructions to refrain from crossing prefectural borders and to avoid the “three Cs”- closed spaces with poor ventilation, crowded places, close-contact settings.

Seven civil organizations in Fukui on April 28 jointly demanded that KEPCO suspend operations of reactors at all NPPs in the prefecture and cancel all work to bring offline reactors back online or decommission them in order to prevent the coronavirus from spreading further.

According to KEPCO, the number of workers will increase by about 1,800 to check on the No.3 reactor at the Oi NPP. Of them, about 900 will come from outside Fukui. At the Oi NPP, the Nos.1 and 2 reactors are currently under the process of decommissioning with about 1,800 workers working daily. Thus, the number of workers in three reactors combined will reach 3,600.

Japanese Communist Party member of the Oi Town Assembly, Saruhashi Takumi pointed out, “The reactor buildings are hermetically closed. Many workers work close together in a confined space. So, the ‘three Cs are unavoidable, but our town has a limited number of hospital beds to treat patients with coronavirus infection. If a mass infection occurs, medical facilities in the town will soon be overwhelmed.”

JCP member of the Fukui Prefectural Assembly Sato Masao criticized KEPCO by saying, “The utility places priority on the resumption of operations of reactors at its NPPs over preventive measures against the coronavirus.”

Apart from the Oi NPP, KEPCO has the Takahama NPP and the Mihama NPP in Fukui Prefecture, and about 4,500 workers and 3,000 workers work at those plants every day, respectively.

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KEPCO postpones regular inspection of No.3 reactor

KEOCO on May 2 announced that it will postpone a regular inspection of the No.3 reactor at its Oi NPP for a few months.

Fearing a possible increase of coronavirus infections caused by the inflow of many workers from outside Fukui Prefecture, local residents successfully pressed the power company to delay the inspection which was planned to start on May 8.

May 18, 2020 Posted by | health, Japan, safety | Leave a comment