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.
English translation of FEPCO's Plutonium Utilization Plan chart issued 6 January 2006
Previous press release and petition sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency on 5 January 2006
Philip White, Citizens' Nuclear Information Center (International Liaison)
Aileen Mioko Smith, Green Action (Director)
Atsuko Nogawa, Greenpeace Japan (Nuclear Campaigner)
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.
Director General Mohamed ElBaradei
International Atomic Energy Agency
A-1400 Vienna, Austria
11 January 2006
Re: ROKKASHO REPROCESSING PLANT AND JAPANESE ELECTRIC UTILITIES' PLUTONIUM UTILIZATION PLANS
Dear Director General ElBaradei:
On 5 January 2006 we sent you a petition urging you to ensure that Japan does not breach its international commitment to the principle of "no surplus plutonium" and to quickly take appropriate action before active testing begins at Rokkasho and plutonium is accumulated. The following day the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPCO) published its Plutonium Utilization Plan.
Attached please find a media briefing we issued today. It is a critique of the plutonium utilization plans of Japanese electric utilities. It addresses the concern that the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) may be approving these plans later this month in order to start "active testing" at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant.
While some of the numbers in the latest Plutonium Utilization Plan are slightly different from those previously released, the plan confirms the basic substance of our petition. We therefore reiterate our appeal for the IAEA Secretariat and Board of Governors to immediately discuss this matter and quickly take appropriate action.
Aileen Mioko Smith
Director, Green Action
cc: IAEA Board of Governors