Atomic Energy Commission rubber stamps power companies’ plutonium utilization plans
The following significant developments emerged in regard to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and Japan’s Plutonium Utilization Plan as this edition of NIT was going to press:
1. On 23 January Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. announced the end of uranium tests.
2. On 24 January Japan Atomic Energy Commission judged the electric power company’s Plutonium Utilization Plan to be appropriate.
3. It is likely that Aomori Prefecture will sign a safety agreement in March, given that the Aomori Parliament begins sitting late February.
4. With these obstacles cleared we would expect active tests using spent nuclear fuel to commence around April.
Below are some of the documents we have released in response to these developments.
11 January 2006
“No” to Start-Up of Active Testing at Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant
Japanese NGOs Label Electric Utility Plutonium Utilization Plan “Fiction”
Concern Raised that Atomic Energy Commission may Rubber-Stamp Plan
Japanese NGOs yesterday released a scathing critique1 of the Plutonium Utilization Plan issued by the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPCO) on 6 January, dubbing the plan as “fiction” and pointing out that it does not comply with specifications stipulated by the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) in 2003.
At this time there is concern JAEC may approve this plan as early as mid-month in order to start “active testing” at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.2 Regional and local authorities’ opposition to the plan is expected.
Rushing to Start “Active Tests” at Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant
The Plutonium Utilization Plan covers the use of plutonium fuel, known as MOX fuel, in nuclear power plants3 operated by Japan’s electric power companies. However, none of the reactors slated under the plan have received consent from local authorities to consume the material.
In February 1997, the government of Japan made a written commitment to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to uphold the “principle of no surplus plutonium”. Based on this, JAEC issued a decision on 5 August 2003 stipulating that electric utilities must state the amount, location, starting date, and length of time required to consume MOX fuel before spent nuclear fuel can be reprocessed to extract plutonium at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant.
The plan issued by FEPCO falls far short of this requirement. There is concern that JAEC will rubber-stamp it in the rush to start “active testing” at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. Active testing is currently scheduled to begin in February. During the active tests the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant will extract plutonium from spent fuel for the first time. According to the plan, 1.6 tons of plutonium will be extracted during fiscal years 2005 and 2006, enough for 200 Nagasaki type nuclear bombs.
Plan will Increase Plutonium Stockpile in Japan
This plan ignores the plutonium that Japan already possesses. Japan already has a surplus of 43.1 tons of plutonium (37.4 tons held in Europe and 5.7 tons held in Japan). The plutonium surplus continues to grow, despite the 1997 “no surplus plutonium” pledge.
An earlier Plutonium Utilization Plan, relating to plutonium held overseas, was submitted to the IAEA in December 1997. The plan, along with the “no surplus plutonium” commitment, was published in IAEA INFCIRC/549/Add.1, 31 March 1998. No MOX fuel has been used in Japan’s nuclear power plants in accordance with this 1997 plan because it foundered.
NGOs point out that the latest FEPCO plan is simply a copy-and-paste job of the 1997 plan. Under the former plan, utilities were to consume MOX fuel at 16 to 18 reactors. The number of reactors slated this time is identical to the 1997 plan, but the latest plan relates to plutonium separated in Japan at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. No explanation is given regarding the overseas plutonium, so it must be assumed that separating more plutonium now will add to the existing surplus. (Japan’s “Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy” issued October 2005 by the JAEC gives priority to the consumption of the plutonium in Europe over any produced at Rokkasho.4)
Plan Fails to Provide Required Information
The plan fails to provide the minimum information required by JAEC’s 2003 decision.
It effectively says nothing about the time of commencement, or the time required to use the plutonium. It says that the plutonium will be used “in and after 2012”. However, this is just a statement of the obvious. Plutonium extracted at Rokkasho is to be fabricated into MOX fuel at the MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant, but this plant has not been built and is only “expected” to commence operation by 20125. Apparently the time required to use the plutonium is just calculated on the basis of the number of reactors and their power output. There is no indication of by when all the plutonium will be used.
Regarding the location, reactors where the plutonium will be used are identified for only six companies: Kansai Electric, Kyushu Electric, Shikoku Electric, Chugoku Electric, Chubu Electric and Japan Atomic Power Company. The remaining four companies fail to specify which reactors will be used: Tokyo Electric, Hokuriku Electric, Tohoku Electric and Hokkaido Electric. Due to local opposition and past scandals, Kansai Electric and Tokyo Electric were forced to refer to the need to recover public trust before their plans can be implemented.
No company has obtained the prior consent of the prefectural or local governments except Kansai Electric and three have not even applied for prior consent. Previously granted consent was withdrawn by Niigata and Fukushima Prefectures (Tokyo Electric). Kansai Electric states it is not in the position to proceed with the Pluthermal (MOX fuel use) program at this time due to the 2004 Mihama nuclear power plant accident.
Regarding the amount to be used by each company, some plutonium is to be allocated to companies which will have no spent fuel reprocessed in fiscal 2005 and 2006. This will put pressure on these companies to proceed with Pluthermal plans, even thought they are not ready to do so.
Plutonium is also allocated to the non-existent Ohma Nuclear Power Plant. Ohma is still under review for a nuclear reactor installation license. It is still not certain Ohma will be built. Not surprisingly, no date is specified for plutonium use at Ohma.
Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission Must Not Accept Plan
Clearly FEPCO’s latest Plutonium Utilization Plan is not based on reality. The purpose of the plan is simply to enable the Rokkasho reprocessing plant to start “active tests” in February.
JAEC should uphold its own 2003 decision and state clearly that the plan is inappropriate. It should declare that “active tests” cannot begin at Rokkasho.
1. On 10 January, twenty-five NGOs from Fukushima, Niigata, Fukui prefectures, Tokyo and Kansai metropolitan areas, and Kyushu issued a critique on FEPCO’s Plutonium Utilization Plan. Available in Japanese.
2. The Rokkasho Reprocessing plant located in Aomori Prefecture, Japan is under construction and currently undergoing uranium commissioning. The plant has the capacity to reprocess 800 tons/HM of spent nuclear fuel a year. At full capacity, Rokkasho is capable of separating approximately 8 tons of plutonium annually.
3. The use of plutonium fuel in light water reactors (‘thermal’ reactors as opposed to ‘fast’ reactors) is called ‘pluthermal’. The fuel is made from a mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium, commonly referred to as MOX.
4. Japan Atomic Energy Commission, “Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy”, 14 October 2005, p.11.
5. Ibid., p. 34.
Ensure Japan Upholds its International Commitment To Not Produce Surplus Plutonium
The government of Japan made a written and unequivocal pledge to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in December 1997 to uphold the “principle of no surplus plutonium.”*1
Despite this commitment, Japan will separate out 4 tons of plutonium at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, if active testing using spent nuclear fuel begins as scheduled in February 2006. The stark fact is that the Japanese nuclear power program has no use for this plutonium, now or in the foreseeable future.
The Plutonium Utilization Plan of Japan presented to the IAEA in 1997 stated that mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) fuel in light water reactors would be the “principle way of utilizing plutonium in Japan over the next few decades.” The program, however, has never gotten off the ground due to public opposition, data falsification scandals in 1999 and 2002 and the fatal accident at the Mihama nuclear power plant in 2004. Today, not a single electric utility has the go ahead to consume MOX fuel.
Furthermore, a fundamental technical problem exists. Japan lacks the capability to turn any plutonium produced at Rokkasho into MOX fuel. There is only a government “expectation” that a MOX fuel fabrication plant be fully operational by fiscal 2012.*2 Therefore, if active testing begins at Rokkasho this year, any separated plutonium will languish at the facility.
Moreover, a massive cache of Japanese plutonium already exists: thirty-seven tons sit in Europe. Japan’s Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy issued in October 2005 gives priority to the consumption of this plutonium in Europe over any produced at Rokkasho *3.
Japan allowed the stockpile in Europe to grow even after the MOX program fell apart, although it was clear the plutonium could not be consumed. Now, it is set to accumulate more plutonium, this time in Japan.
Simply put, Japan already has tons of plutonium and no way to burn it. Further stockpiling is not only irresponsible but also a clear break with Japan’s pledge to produce no surplus plutonium.
Japan originally made this commitment in the interests of nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, a field in which it is a valuable leader. Given the heightened political tension around disarmament and non-proliferation in North East Asia, and its role as Chair of the IAEA Board of Governors, Japan should not renege on this commitment.
For these reasons, Japan should indefinitely postpone active testing at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant.
To ensure that Japan does not breach its international commitment to the “principle of no surplus plutonium”, we urge the IAEA Secretariat and Board of Governors to immediately discuss this matter and quickly take appropriate action before active testing begins at Rokkasho and plutonium is accumulated.
5 January 2006
Hideyuki Ban (Co-Director) Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC)
Aileen Mioko Smith (Director) Green Action
Atsuko Nogawa (Nuclear Campaigner) Greenpeace Japan
*1. International Atomic Energy Agency, “Communication Received from Certain Member States Concerning their Policies Regarding the Management of Plutonium”, INFCIRC/549/Add. 1, 31 March 1998. Available at
*2. Japan Atomic Energy Commission, “Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy”, 14 October 2005, p.34. Available at aec.jst.go.jp/jicst/NC/eng/index.htm