ruling infuriates plaintiffs
Japan Times, 22 March 2000
By Eric Johnston, staff writer
-- Antinuclear activists expressed shock and outrage Wednesday over
the Fukui District Court's ruling against local residents' efforts to
permanently close the Monju fast-breeder reactor, and both plaintiffs
and their lawyers vowed their nearly 15-year battle was not over.
is the worst possible verdict. We will file an appeal Thursday," said
Kimiko Fukutake, the main attorney for the plaintiffs.
verdict shows that Japan's judicial system is not working, and I'm boiling
with anger at the unjustness of it," said Fukui resident Miwako Ogiso,
an antinuclear activist and member of the group.
especially upset the activists is that presiding Judge Yoshihiko Iwata
offered no words of concern over the safety of Monju -- which has been
shut down since a sodium leak in December 1995 -- or Japan's plutonium
judge was unprofessional and the ruling was pathetic. In the earlier
ruling against the Onagawa (nuclear) plant, the judge expressed concern
about the operation of the plant. But Iwata just read the verdict and
told the plaintiffs they had to pay the costs," said Aileen Smith, of
Green Action Kyoto.
Sendai High Court last March ruled against plaintiffs seeking to close
Tohoku Electric Power Co.'s Onagawa plant in Miyagi Prefecture. Judge
Toshimi Muto said there was no danger to the plaintiffs, but he criticized
the utility for resuming operations without clearly explaining the cause
of a temporary shutdown in 1993.
which sits on the edge of Tsuruga Bay, has been controversial since
its construction began in 1985. The plant was built at a cost of 600
billion yen and was designed as an experimental fast-breeder reactor
that would burn plutonium, instead of either conventional uranium or
plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel.
government saw, and still sees, Monju as the first of several fast-breeder
reactors to be built. Original plans, first formulated in the 1970s,
called for two more along the Sea of Japan coast, with plutonium fuel
to come from the Rokkasho processing plant in Aomori Prefecture.
the national government's decision came at a time when world opinion
was turning against plutonium reactors. The U.S. had abandoned its own
plutonium reactor program in the late 1970s, and many other countries
the time, the logic behind the use of plutonium was that, in the long
term, uranium sources would become scarce, driving energy costs up.
A 1980 state white paper on plutonium reactors promised they would provide
practically endless renewable energy that would make Japan less dependent
on foreign oil.
didn't happen and the price of uranium yellow cake has remained relatively
stable the past 20 years, leading many economists to question the cost
activists, though, were more worried about safety. When construction
of Monju began, Ogiso and other residents sued to try and stop the plant,
arguing that plutonium was too toxic to be handled safely.
the following decade, plutonium safety became a subject of a heated
debate between activists and the government, and led to bizarre attempts
to convince the public that plutonium was not harmful.
February 1993, authorities distributed an animated video called "Mr.
Pluto," in which a young boy is encouraged to take a drink of "safe
and drinkable" plutonium.
video prompted a letter of protest from then U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel
O'Leary to Takao Ishiwatari, president of Power Reactor and Nuclear
Fuel Development Corp. O'Leary called the ad misleading and the video
was later withdrawn.
was completed in 1991 and, over international protests, a shipment of
plutonium arrived in Japan from Europe in 1992. After a series of startup
tests in August 1995, Monju produced some electricity for a brief period.
in December 1995, a fire inside the plant occurred after at least one
ton of sodium coolant leaked from a secondary cooling system. Sodium
burns when it comes into contact with oxygen or water, and the steel
plates covering the concrete floor were severely warped. A Monju official
later admitted that, had the concrete been exposed, the moisture on
the floor would have led to a major explosion.
accident shook the foundations of Japan's nuclear power industry and
was made worse by revelations of a coverup by the nuclear power authorities.
Finally, PNC was abolished, and in its place arose the Japan Nuclear
Cycle Development Institute, which is now in charge of operating Monju,
which remains closed. There are no plans to restart it in the near future.
nongovernmental Tokyo-based Citizens' Nuclear Information Center estimates
there is 367 kg of plutonium stockpiled at Monju, and about 10 kg in
the reactor itself. This has fueled the ultimate concern of those opposed
to the plant: plutonium stockpiles for possible military use.
pronuclear authorities have argued for years that it would be nearly
impossible to build nuclear weapons from reactor-grade plutonium. However,
the International Atomic Energy Association has officially stated that
any combination of plutonium isotopes can be used in an atomic weapon.
Other experts estimate as little as 8 kg of reactor-grade plutonium
could be used to make a 20 megaton bomb.
the moment, Japan has an estimated 5,000 kg of plutonium either stockpiled
or in use. Over the past 30 years, there have been several efforts on
the part of officials to look, quietly, into going nuclear.
1994, it was revealed that former Prime Minister Eisaku Sato, who had
suggested what became Japan's three nonnuclear principles -- to not
manufacture, possess or allow entry of nuclear weapons -- had commissioned
a study into the development of atomic weapons.
study, combined with the 1970 and 1980 Defense Agency white papers that
said defensive nuclear weapons do not violate the Constitution and Foreign
Ministry officials' quotes in 1992 and 1994 that Japan should not entirely
disregard the nuclear option, raised fears that Monju's, and Japan's
plutonium stockpiles, were really for future weapons systems, not energy
the government has admitted that Monju would only produce something
like 1 percent of the nation's energy needs after 50 years, it's hard
to see what else it might be for," Green Action's Smith said.