Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant Operation Postponed for One Year
Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) announced on September 19 that it has postponed the scheduled plan to start the operation of Rokkasho Repressing Plant in Rokkasho village, Aomori Prefecture for another year from July 2005 to 2006. When the project was approved in 1989, it was scheduled to begin operation in December 1997, but the plan has been postponed three times already, and this is the fourth postponement.The experimental operation involving the reprocessing of uranium was also postponed until January 2004. This had been scheduled to be conducted prior to the operation. Accordingly, the trial operation using spent fuel was delayed until February 2005. As reported in NIT No. 95, as many as 291 poorly welded points were found in the spent-fuel storage pool, which required large-scale inspection and repair work. This is the reason for these postponements.
Government Agrees to Tax on the Storage of Spent Fuel
On September 18, MPHPT (Ministry of Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications) agreed to place a municipal tax on spent fuel, which Kashiwazaki City of Niigata Prefecture and Sendai City of Kagoshima Prefecture had requested. Following this on September 20, Kashiwazaki City council, which planned to introduce the taxation in October, adopted a supplementary budget for the current year, including 225 million yen tax revenue. The tax rate is 480 yen per kg of spent fuel, and the City is expected to gain 2.7 billion yen from this taxation in the coming five years.
Sendai City has decided to impose a tax of 230,000 yen on the spent fuel per canister (about 500 yen per kg) from April next year. The city expects about 1.26 billion yen in tax revenues in the next five years.
Mutsu City Council Does Not Approve of a Plebiscite
On September 1, citizens of Mutsu city in Aomori Prefecture requested the Mayor to establish a city ordinance by a plebiscite with regard to the siting of Japan's first off-site storage facility for spent fuel. The legally binding request requires the petitions of 801 citizens, which accounts for one-fiftieth of the constituency. However, a total of 5,514 citizens, nearly 7 times the required number, ended up signing the petition.
Yet, the Mayor of Mutsu pressed Tokyo Electric Power Co. to invite the facility to the city when the petitions were collected on July 23, and the Mayor submitted a proposal to the city council on September 4, expressing his opposition to the request for the ordinance on a plebiscite. In the debate at the city council, the Mayor said, "if a plebiscite is held, the majority might oppose the plan, and, therefore, the city will not be able to invite the facility." Despite this comment, the city council rejected the bill on September 11 for establishing a city ordinance with the majority votes against the ordinance.
Electric Companies to Give Away Huge Donations to Local Communities
Last September, Kyushu Electric Power Co. announced a donation of 1.5 billion yen to Sendai City in Kagoshima Prefecture where Sendai No. 3 nuclear power plant is planned to be built (currently two reactors are in operation). This huge donation is the response to a request for co-operation from Sendai City. In order to gain the city's cooperation, Kyushu Electric Power Co. also had to pay the even larger sum of 1.1 billion yen, referred to as a "measure for the promotion of local business."
There were anonymous donations totaling 300 million yen to Shimane town, which recently approved the construction of Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Shimane No. 3 nuclear power plant nearby. Anonymous donations have been observed twice in 2001 and once in 2002, for 300 million yen on each occasion, making a total of 1.2 billion yen. Although these are reported as anonymous donations, the media suggested that they were from Chugoku Electric Power Co. The actual construction site is in a neighboring town of Kashima where 700 million yen in anonymous donations were given in 2001 and 2002.
MOE Proposes a New Climate Change Tax Scheme
On August 27, the expert committee on the climate change tax scheme, the advisory body of the Minister of Environment organized under the Central Environment Council, summarized a consultation report on climate change tax policy. The Minister agreed the proposed tax scheme.
The subject of taxation is the amount of carbon content contained in fossil fuel, which is taxed when the fuels are imported or shipped to a domestic market; import traders or refinery companies will be subject to the taxation. The preliminary calculation estimated that the amount of tax will be 3,400 yen per ton. This will yield 950 billion yen annually. The revenue will be spent on the construction of energy-saving housing and the dissemination of fuel-cell-powered automobiles. The Ministry of the Environment plans to introduce the tax policy in 2005, and has started to persuade industries which have strongly opposed the policy.
Nuclear Safety White Paper
On August 29, the Nuclear Safety Commission issued the 2002 edition of the "Nuclear Safety White Paper." Normally, the white paper is published in March. However, the publication was delayed by six months due to the Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) trouble concerning deceptive practices (see page 1 for reference) and a ruling to nullify the construction permit for the Monju fast-breeder reactor (see NIT No.93).
Concerning the TEPCO incidents, the report says, "the statute of limitations never runs out for the act of losing credibility" and makes clear that gaining the public's trust in nuclear energy is an enormous difficulty. However, the white paper doesn't take up the subject of separating the Agency for Nuclear Industry and Safety from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), a measure which has been strongly requested from local governments. On the contrary, the paper simply confirms the METI's policy of continuing reactor operation even though cracks are found. It introduced the accident risk acceptance standard, what is called a "safety target."
Regarding the Monju high court ruling, the report insists that the safety review of Monju itself was the right process. As one electric power industry paper said, "there is nothing new in the white paper."
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