There have been several significant developments in regard to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and Japan's Plutonium Use Plan. The following developments suggest that Japan will soon begin extracting plutonium from spent fuel at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant:
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 companies' 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.
See media release below. See also links to earlier media releases.
The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) today handed down its judgment that the electric power companies' Utilization Plan for Plutonium Recovered at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant (Plutonium Utilization Plan) is appropriate.
Philip White of the Citizens' Nuclear Information Center said, "CNIC protests this hasty judgment, the purpose of which is simply to enable tests using spent nuclear fuel to begin at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant."
"JAEC's judgment completely ignores the real situation facing power companies in regard to their plutonium utilization plans. It also flies in the face of Japan's undertaking to the international community not to produce surplus plutonium."
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". On 5 August 2003 JAEC issued a decision aimed at increasing the transparency of this commitment. The decision stipulated that electric utilities must state the amount, location, starting date, and length of time required to consume MOX fuel (fuel made from a mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium) before spent nuclear fuel could be reprocessed to extract plutonium at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. According to this decision JAEC must confirm that these plans are appropriate.
The Plutonium Utilization Plan released on 6 January 2006 by the Federation Electric Power Companies indicates that the 1.6 tons of plutonium to be separated in fiscal years 2005 and 2006 will be used as MOX fuel in Japan's nuclear power reactors. However, many companies failed to specify which reactors the fuel would be used in. The starting date was specified using the vague phrase "in and after 2012". Furthermore, no indication was given as to when all the plutonium would be used up.
"Clearly this Plutonium Utilization Plan fails to fulfill the requirements of JAEC's August 2003 decision. The plan is anything but transparent. Under these circumstances it defies belief that JAEC could judge the plan to be appropriate."
Japan's nuclear power companies and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency currently possess approximately 43 tons of separated plutonium, 37 tons of which is held in Europe and 6 tons of which is held in Japan. The plan was to begin using this plutonium as fuel for light water reactors in 1999. However, due to a series of scandals and opposition from local residents this plan stalled. If the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant begins separating plutonium as planned, by 2012 it will have separated a further 42 tons of plutonium. There is no evidence to suggest that a significant proportion of this plutonium will have been consumed by then. Hence, Japan's stockpile of separated plutonium could grow to as much as 85 tons by 2012.
"Surely JAEC cannot expect the international community to be reassured of Japan's commitment to the strictly peaceful use of nuclear energy if its plutonium stockpile continues to grow in this way. JAEC should take a close look at the actual situation in regard the use of plutonium in Japan's nuclear power reactors and withdraw its judgment that the Plutonium Utilization Plan is appropriate. On the basis of this plan it is not appropriate to start active tests at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant."
Contact: Philip White, International Liaison Officer