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TEPCO Announced the Postponement of the Pluthermal Program

Disputes at Fukushima Prefecture: Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and Fukushima Energy Policy Review Committee (FEPRC) exchange their views.

The 20th Fukushima Energy Policy Review Committee (FEPRC) was held in Fukushima city on August 8 where five members of the AEC attended the meeting to exchange their views with the committee members of the FEPRC including Mr. Eisaku Sato, the Governor of Fukushima Prefecture. The meeting was open to the public. The more than 220 people attending this meeting - there are usually about 20 - indicated the strong interest of the citizens of Fukushima Prefecture.

After hearing initial statements from both sides, Mr. Sato explained his view that Fukushima has long cooperated with the nation's nuclear policy, but has been tossed about by the central government's stated policy and their real intentions. In short, the government promised that spent fuels would not be stored at the Prefecture for a long time since the second fuel reprocessing facility was expected to start its operation around 2010. The Long Term Program for the Research and Utilization of Atomic Energy, which was issued in June of last year, revised the principle that 'the decision will be made based on the reprocessing capacity and the availability of technology around 2010. The government's promises regarding spent fuels were easily overturned. Finally, the Governor submitted fourteen items of 'questions on energy policy.'

Then, prefecture officials and the AEC members discussed the nuclear fuel cycle and information disclosure. The officials pointed out, referring to their original data, that the implementation of the Plu-thermal program could not reduce the stockpiling of plutonium even if the Rokkasho Uranium Enrichment Plant started its operation. Questions were raised about AEC's claim that the Plu-thermal program will resolve the problem of stockpiling of plutonium. It was proposed that the current reprocessing policy should be changed so that spent fuels could be stored at an interim storage site until it is certainly necessary to use plutonium. Additionally, the FEPRC requested that the government should promote more information disclosure on nuclear energy. This request is based on their experience in which they went through many difficulties obtaining information during their research.

In response to the EPRC, the AEC repeatedly claimed that the future success and the development of science and technology would not be realized if it has to be started from now, and therefore, it was necessary to continue the development of the FBR and the reprocessing of spent fuels. However, in the course of the discussion, there was a situation where one of AEC members let slip real belief that the reason the government should stick to the reprocessing policy is that if the current reprocessing spent fuel policy were changed to store spent fuels at an interim storage, it could be thought that the government changed their policy. Apprehending the risk that the APLTP will be seen as failure, the government has clung to the goal of the old APLTP, which doesn't reflect the actual situation of nuclear energy.

After the meeting on August 21, the AEC sent to the Governor, Mr. Sato, a letter presenting answers to the fourteen questions regarding the nation's energy policy. The letter also asked for another meeting with the Governor. The contents of the letter mostly affirm the status quo of the nation's nuclear energy policy; it doesn't address any questions raised by the FEPRC. However, the concluding part of the letter deserves attention. It says: 'nonetheless, as a practical issue if the Plu-thermal program were stopped at this point, we suspect that the suspension would necessitate taking appropriate measures to deal with spent fuels for the electric power generation area,' referring to the fact that the reprocessing business of spent fuels could be regarded as means to deal with spent fuels stored at nuclear power plants, which could influence the utilization of whole nuclear power plants. Fukushima citizens criticized it as an intimidatory and unreasonable argument. Governor Mr. Sato declined to arrange a further meeting with the AEC.

Disputes at Niigata Prefecture: fight to protect the outcome of public referendum

Aiming to load MOX fuels during a periodical inspection, which is expected to start from August, several preparations were started in Niigata prefecture. The Governor Mr. Hirayama of Niigata Prefecture remarked that the prefecture could become the first to introduce the Plu-thermal program. Soon after the Kansai Electric Company's MOX fuel was shipped back to England, Kariwa village chief Mr. Shinada went to Belgium for the examination of falsified data on MOX fuels, and he reported upon returning from his trip that suspicion on data falsification no longer remained. He carried out meetings with village people in each 20 district in the village. At the same time, the mayor of Kashiwazaki-city visited Belgium and France and announced that doubt about the maintenance of quality verification data was cleared. On the contrary, citizens who oppose the implementation of the MOX program, mainly local residents, visited local residences door-to-door to ask people to keep the result of referendum. On August 27th, the results of an opinion survey, which was conducted August of this year and consulted 4,200 village residents, showed the majority of residents (80%) agreed that the mayor should respect the outcome of the public referendum last year (those who disagree comprised 18.4%). Following such activities, it was found during a periodic inspection that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Unit-3 core shroud has some cracks, making it impractical to load MOX fuels during the test.

Two days after that incident, it was reported by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency and TEPCO that TEPCO has covered-up and/or falsified data on voluntary test from the mid-1980s through to the 1990s. A detailed account of this incident has not yet emerged, however, based on what has been reported so far, TEPCO seems to have provided inaccurate data and omitted to mention in its inspection report that cracks had been found in reactor components such as the core shroud, the jet pump and the steam dryer. Initially, reports suggested that GEII (General Electric International Incorporation) had engaged in illegal operations, but it was later revealed that TEPCO had instructed GEII to falsify the data.

An influential local person who has worked with TEPCO felt this incident was a 'betrayal.' According to a news report on September 2, it was unanimously decided that Okuma town assembly and council would reverse the previous agreement on the MOX program (see table 1). It is certain that the MOX-program in Japan will delay at least several years. The Plu-thermal program, governemnt's de-facto policy, has failed. The operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant will bethe next issue, granted that the AEC's reply to the Fukushima Governor on the fourteen questions regarding the nation's energy policy were true.

By Hideyuki Ban

Table 1. Plu-thermal plan

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