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Rokkasho Election Results

Unfortunately: pro-nuclear fuel cycle incumbent mayor was reelected…
June 24, 2018
The mayoral election took place in Rokkasho, Japan, on Sunday June 24th.
Here are the results :
The number of inhabitants having the right to vote: 8637
The number of votes: 5379
Invalid votes: 35
Voter turnout: 62.28%
M. Mamoru Toda, pro-nuclear fuel cycle incumbent mayor was reelected with 5021 votes.
Ms Junko Endo, anti-nuclear fuel cycle candidate gained 323 votes.
The results show the extreme difficulty of anti-nuclear movements in local elections. However, thanks to the courage of Junko Endo, 323 voters were able to express their desire to stop the nuclear fuel cycle, and many people in the world became aware of what is happening in Rokkasho Village.
Thank you Ms ENDO for your courage!
Thanks to all of you who sent encouraging messages to Ms Endo that were gratefully forwarded to her.
Let’s keep on following events in Rokkasho from all over the world!
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June 26, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Gov’t set to continue nuclear fuel cycle project despite Monju closure. Time to scrap nuclear fuel cycle, not just Monju reactor


Gov’t set to continue nuclear fuel cycle project despite Monju closure

The government formally decided at a meeting of Cabinet ministers concerned with nuclear energy on Dec. 21 to decommission the trouble-plagued Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.
Over 1 trillion yen in taxpayers’ money has so far been invested in the reactor — the core facility in the government’s nuclear fuel cycle project in which spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed and reused in nuclear reactors.

Nevertheless, Monju, operated by the government-affiliated Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), will be shut down after being in operation for a total of only 250 days since the reactor reached criticality for the first time in 1994.

Still, the government, which is poised to continue the nuclear fuel cycle project, also agreed at the Dec. 21 meeting to draw up a road map by 2018 toward developing a fast reactor for the project.

In other words, the government is moving toward its “next dream” even without clarifying the cause of the failure of what they called “dream nuclear reactor” Monju and who is responsible for the fiasco.

“It’s extremely important to maintain the nuclear fuel cycle project and promote the development of a fast reactor,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference following the decision.

However, continuation of the project will likely pose a challenge. The government’s nuclear fuel cycle project involves two cycles — one centered on a fast-breeder reactor and the other in which mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel, nuclear fuel made from reprocessed plutonium and uranium, is used in nuclear plants.

With the decision to decommission Monju, the cycle involving a fast-breeder reactor has failed. At the same time, the government has failed to smoothly press forward with the cycle involving the use of MOX fuel since most nuclear power plants have been idled since the outbreak of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011. The No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata plant is the only nuclear reactor using MOX fuel, which is currently in operation.

A spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture is undergoing safety screening by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), and pools holding spent nuclear fuel at atomic power stations across the country are filled to 70 percent of their capacities on average. Japan’s stockpile of plutonium, which can be converted to use in nuclear weapons, has kept growing. By the end of 2015, the plutonium Japan possessed domestically and overseas had amounted to 47.9 metric tons.

The development of a fast reactor poses technological challenges. While a breeder reactor is designed to increase the amount of plutonium, the government emphasizes that a fast reactor that it is aiming to develop will play the role of an “incinerator” for nuclear waste such as by reducing the volume of high-level radioactive waste.

However, no experiment has been conducted on a fast reactor using actual radioactive waste. Hirofumi Nakamura, head of JAEA’s planning and coordination division, acknowledged that the technology has not even reached the stage prior to putting it into practical use.

Serious questions persist about the feasibility of a fast reactor for economic reasons, and such a reactor is often dubbed as “modern alchemy.”

The basic structure of a fast reactor and that of a breeder reactor are basically the same with the only differences being fuel types and arrangements. Therefore, a fast reactor, which is supposed to play the role of an incinerator for spent nuclear fuel, could be converted into a breeder reactor that produces plutonium.

A senior official of JAEA admits that “there is room for converting a fast reactor into one that breeds (plutonium).”

A fast reactor can be put into practical use after the development and production of experimental, prototype and then demonstration reactors. The government participates in the joint development of ASTRID, a French demonstration fast reactor. However, it remains unclear whether data and knowledge gained from the project in France, which is rarely hit by earthquakes, can be utilized in quake-prone Japan.

France is aiming to begin to operate the fast reactor in the 2030s, but the necessary funds for the project have only been allocated up to 2019. Questions remain as to whether Japan, which has aborted its project involving Monju, a prototype reactor, can be involved in a project to develop an upper-tier demonstration reactor.

Even those within the governing coalition are calling for caution in Japan’s involvement in the joint development project in France. “Japan shouldn’t ride on someone’s (France’s) back,” said Hiroshi Hase, former education, culture, sports, science and technology minister.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka dismissed the feasibility of a demonstration reactor. “I understand that a demonstration reactor isn’t realistic,” Tanaka told a news conference on Dec. 21.

Government still refuses to face up to reality, failure of Monju project

The government officially decided on Dec. 21 to decommission the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor and instead develop a new fast reactor to maintain Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling program.

The decision can be likened to a theater director determined not to declare an end to production despite dropping the spendthrift leading actor whose scandals have prevented him from performing on stage.

Fearing possible repercussions from the termination of the production, the director keeps promising to stage the play “sometime in the future.” The director refuses to say clearly when the play will be staged because there is no actor in sight who can substitute for the dismissed one.

But this policy decision cannot be simply laughed away as an absurd piece of political theatrics. An enormous amount of taxpayer money has already been poured into Monju, and the government is poised to spend a huge additional amount to deal with its demise.

There is no doubt the Monju project has been a costly failure. The government cannot be allowed to put the debacle behind it by simply scrapping the experimental reactor and having the science and technology minister offer to return part of his salary for several months.

Despite an injection of more than 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) of public funds into the project, the reactor has been mostly out of operation for the 20-odd years since it first reached criticality in 1994. Decommissioning the reactor will require an additional expenditure of nearly 400 billion yen, according to a government estimate.

An exhaustive postmortem for the project to identify the causes of its failure is in order.

The government should not waste any more money or make unreasonable efforts to keep its nuclear fuel recycling program alive.

The government has made the questionable claim that “a certain amount of useful knowledge” has been acquired through the Monju project that can be used to develop a new fast reactor. Instead, the government should confront the grim reality of this undertaking.

Four years ago, the science and technology ministry submitted a report on technological achievements in the Monju project to the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.

The report included estimated levels of achievements, weighted in terms of importance, in different areas.

The degree of achievement, expressed as a percentage, for equipment and system tests was, for instance, 16 percent. The figure for reactor core tests and irradiation issues was 31 percent, while that for operation and maintenance was nil. The overall achievement level was estimated at 16 percent.

Does the government believe this poor track record justifies its claim that “a certain amount of useful knowledge” has been obtained?

The clear moral of the Monju saga is that a huge price must be paid for failing to take a hard look at the reality and underestimating risks and problems.

Serious concerns about the cost-effectiveness of a nuclear fuel recycling program and the risk of nuclear proliferation from accumulating stockpiles of plutonium led many countries to give up developing fast-breeder reactors. Japan, however, bucked the trend and embarked on building Monju.

When sodium leaks occurred overseas, Japanese proponents insisted that such an accident would not happen at the Monju reactor.

When a sodium leak accident did occur at Monju in 1995, they made false announcements and covered up vital information.

Monju resumed operations in 2010 after a long hiatus, but mechanical trouble soon caused it to be shut down again.

Eventually, the ability and competence of the Monju operator, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, was called into question.

The government’s decision to decommission the reactor has long been delayed apparently because of fears that the step would raise questions about how to reprocess spent nuclear fuel in the recycling process and could have a negative impact on nuclear power generation itself.

The government should take this opportunity to confront the reality of its nuclear fuel recycling policy and try to create a new nuclear power policy that can win support of the public through open and broad debate.

Forging ahead with the plan to develop a fast reactor without following this process would be tantamount to betraying the people.

Editorial: Time to scrap nuclear fuel cycle, not just Monju reactor

The government formally decided on Dec. 21 to decommission Japan’s Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor, yet will continue to pursue the nuclear fuel cycle in which plutonium is extracted from spent fuel through reprocessing to be used again. This stance by the government takes the existence of fast reactors and the nuclear fuel cycle as a foregone conclusion.

Over 1 trillion yen in public funds has been injected into the Monju project, yet due to recurring trouble and scandals, the reactor has operated for just 250 days over 22 years. The Nuclear Regulation Authority went as far as to point out that Monju’s operator, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, was not capable of running the reactor and should be replaced.

It is only natural for the reactor to be scrapped, but there remains a problem in that the government has closed its eyes to various issues in reaching its decision. Why was it unable to act sooner to put an end to the waste of taxpayers’ money and decommission the reactor? Disregarding any probe into such issues, the government went ahead and made its decision behind closed doors. This is no way to win public approval.

An even more fundamental problem is that while the government is set to decommission the Monju reactor, it has decided to proceed with the development of a demonstration fast reactor — a step up from Monju.

Fast reactors form a cornerstone of the nuclear fuel cycle. The decommissioning of Monju should mean the cycle is broken, and if that is the case, then what needs to be reviewed above all is the fuel cycle policy itself.

The government, however, is still trying to promote fast reactor development, on the grounds that maintenance of the nuclear fuel cycle was included in the nation’s basic energy policy that the Cabinet approved in 2014.

As a step in that direction, the government has proposed taking part in France’s project to build the Astrid fast demonstration reactor, but the feasibility of this project remains unclear, and the government’s move sticks out as a seemingly stop-gap measure.

The reason the government has stuck to maintaining the nuclear fuel cycle is that as soon as it takes down its fuel cycle banner, spent fuel that was previously a “resource” becomes mere “waste.” As a result, the Aomori Prefectural Government would probably have to ask power companies to take back the “resources” that have been piling up at the nuclear fuel reprocessing facility in the prefecture. And once the storage pools for spent fuel at the nation’s nuclear power plants are full, those plants’ reactors will have to be taken offline.

Politicians should be sitting down and working out measures to solve this problem; maintenance of the nuclear fuel cycle should not be used as an expedient.

Some may see officials as wanting to maintain the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel from the viewpoint of potential nuclear deterrence, but this position lacks persuasiveness.

Five years and nine months have now passed since the onset of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, and as we prepare to usher in a new year, there are still people living in temporary dwellings and other places to which they evacuated. And the government is trying to widely push the swelling costs of the disaster cleanup, reactor decommissioning, and compensation payments onto the public.

Looking squarely at this reality, fast reactor development is not something the government should be placing priority on tackling. It should give up on the nuclear fuel cycle and put the money to use in measures to assist Fukushima’s recovery.


December 23, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Monju and the nuclear fuel cycle

fast breeder reactor monju npp.jpg


Media reports that the government is finally weighing whether to pull the plug on the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, due to the massive cost needed to restart the long-dormant facility, should come as no surprise. Once touted as a “dream reactor” for an energy-scarce country that produces more plutonium than it consumes as fuel, Monju has been a nightmare for national nuclear power policy for the past two decades. The sole prototype reactor for this kind of technology has been in operation a mere 250 days since it first reached criticality in 1994. It has mostly been offline since a 1995 sodium coolant leak and fire. Its government-backed operator has been declared unfit by nuclear power regulators to run the trouble-prone reactor, and the education and science ministry, in charge of the project, has not been able to find a viable solution.

More than ¥1 trillion in taxpayer money has so far been spent on Monju, and maintenance alone costs ¥20 billion a year. Restarting the reactor under the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s new safety standards would cost another several hundred billion yen, including the expense of replacing its long-unused fuel as well as its aging components — though there would still be no guarantee that it would complete its mission of commercializing fast-breeder reactor technology.

The Abe administration may think that writing off the ill-fated costly project, even with the projected ¥300 billion cost of decommissioning the facility over 30 years, will help win more public support for its policy of seeking to reactivate the nation’s conventional reactors — most of which remain idled in the wake of the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 plant — once they’ve cleared the NRA screening. Public concerns over the safety of nuclear energy remain strong after the Fukushima disaster, with media surveys showing a large portion of respondents still opposed putting the idled reactors back online.

If it is going to decide to decommission the Monju reactor, however, the government should also rethink its pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle — in which spent fuel from nuclear power plants is reprocessed to extract plutonium for reuse as fuel. Monju, which runs on plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel, has been a core component of the program. As Monju remained dormant for more than 20 years, the government and power companies have shifted the focus of the policy to using MOX fuel at regular nuclear power plants. The No. 3 reactor at Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture, which resumed operation in August, runs on MOX fuel. The government apparently thinks the Monju program is no longer essential to the policy.

But the nuclear fuel cycle itself has proven elusive, and some say the policy has already collapsed. It is still nowhere in sight when the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture — another key component in the program and whose construction began in 1993 — will be ready for operation.

After its scheduled completion in 1997 has been delayed by more than 20 times due to a series of technical glitches and other problems, its construction cost has ballooned three times the original projection to ¥2.2 trillion.

If indeed the Rokkasho facility is completed and starts reprocessing spent fuel from power plants across the country, the Ikata power plant is currently the only one in operation that consumes plutonium-uranium fuel. It’s not clear how many more will be up and running in the years ahead given the slow pace of restarting the idled reactors, and the Rokkasho facility operating without a sufficient number of reactors using MOX fuel would only add to Japan’s stockpile of unused plutonium — which has already hit 48 tons.

If it’s the cost problem that’s finally spelling doom for the Monju project, the government and power companies should also consider the cost-efficiency of the nuclear fuel cycle program, including the extra cost of reprocessing spent fuel into MOX fuel. They should also think about whether the program is compatible with the government’s stated policy — though its commitment may be in doubt — of seeking to reduce Japan’s dependency on nuclear power as an energy source.

Monju has drifted on for years after its future was clearly in doubt. A decision now to terminate the project seems sensible. Such a decision should also prompt the government to stop and consider whether its nuclear fuel cycle still makes sense.

September 5, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Editorial: Use wisdom in drawing curtain on nuclear fuel cycle

With the recent reactivation of the No. 1 reactor at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, the government has moved a step ahead with a policy for maintaining nuclear power. To keep in tandem with that move, a working group of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in July began looking into measures to maintain the nuclear fuel cycle. While the move is aimed at improving the environment for nuclear power businesses amid liberalization of the electricity market, it is posing serious problems.

Under the nuclear fuel cycle, spent fuel from nuclear plants is reprocessed to extract plutonium for reuse as fuel. While the project is promoted as part of Japan’s national policy, the actual reprocessing of spent fuel is undertaken by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., a company jointly invested in by power companies. If free competition progresses in the electricity market, utilities would not be able to secure as much profit as before and some might no longer be able to support Japan Nuclear Fuel.

The ministry’s working group is considering intensifying government involvement in the nuclear fuel cycle to keep the project afloat. The group is also mulling more secure ways to raise a total of 12.6 trillion yen in operating costs for the project.

Currently, the cost for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is tacked on to electricity bills. If the government is to step up its involvement in the project, it will need to seek public consensus over its relevance, including the additional public financial burden.

The nuclear fuel cycle has been riddled with major problems in terms of technology, safety and costs. The completion of Japan Nuclear Fuel’s reprocessing plant under construction in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been postponed 22 times following regular trouble. The construction cost has already tripled from the initial estimate of 760 billion yen, and could further snowball for safety and other necessary measures. The development of a fast-breeder reactor, which is supposed to act as “wheels on a car” for the nuclear fuel cycle along with the reprocessing project, has been stalled at the stage of operating the Monju prototype reactor, with no prospects for putting it into practical use. The so-called “pluthermal” project using plutonium in conventional light-water reactors is not making as much progress as expected.

There also lies a serious problem in plutonium extracted in the reprocessing of spent fuel from the viewpoint of nuclear non-proliferation. Japan currently possesses more than 47 metric tons of plutonium at home and abroad, and if the country is to produce additional plutonium that could be diverted to military use with no destination for consumption amid lowering dependence on nuclear power, the international community would only grow suspicious about such possession.

In the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission released an assessment showing that the direct disposal of spent nuclear fuel over the next 20 to 30 years would be equal to or more beneficial than reprocessing such fuel in terms of economic efficiency, nuclear non-proliferation and other effects. Given such estimates, the government should focus its efforts not on measures to prolong the nuclear fuel cycle but on putting forth steps to draw a curtain on the project.

If the reprocessing of spent fuel is to be terminated, Aomori Prefecture would demand that such fuel it has thus far accommodated should be brought back to where it was originally generated. Such a project termination would also cause problems to local employment and the disposal of existing plutonium. The government should rather rack its brain over how to resolve these issues.

Source: Mainichi

August 21, 2015 Posted by | Japan | | Leave a comment