August 2002

While the new French government tries to give the impression that nuclear power will have a new future in the country after the recent elections, the situation in Japan is getting increasingly controversial. The major national daily Asahi Shimbun wrote in a recent editorial (see hereunder): "The future of nuclear-power generation in this country remains uncertain." And the Governor of the powerful Fukushima Prefecture wonders in an interview: "Is nuclear power really cheap?"

The full text of the interview with Fukushima Governor Eisaku Sato and the editorial of the Asahi Shimbun, originally published in Japanese on 11 June 02 and published in English on 30 July 02.

(Thanks to Green Action, Kyoto, for transmitting this information.)

INTERVIEW / Eisaku Sato: Public kept in dark on nuclear power plans

Followed by

INTERVIEW: Forum needed for parties to discuss nuclear concerns

[Posted 14/08/2002]

INTERVIEW / Eisaku Sato: Public kept in dark on nuclear power plans

The Asahi Shimbun, June 30, 2002

The plutonium-thermal project, which forms the mainstay of the Japanese government's nuclear fuel cycle policy, has come to a standstill after Fukushima and Niigata prefectures overturned their decision to accept it. Fukushima Governor Eisaku Sato, who remains at odds with the government and the electric power industry over the proposed project, says he finds the government plan unacceptable because it lacks a clear future vision. Excerpts from a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun follow:

Q:After your refusal to give the green light to the pluthermal project, you organized a panel to review energy policy. Why?

A:The government distributed flyers that said if Japan continued to accumulate plutonium, it would be a target of international criticism. The flyers also carried slogans saying the pluthermal process is effective in preventing global warming and is important in ensuring energy security. That's what prompted me to start the panel to verify the claims, one by one.

Q:What did you feel after discussing the issue for a little more than a year?

A:For example, international meetings on global warming do not positively evaluate nuclear power generation. Imports of uranium can last about 70 years. Why make haste to start the pluthermal project now? Is nuclear power really cheap? The government has yet to show accountability in squarely answering these questions.

Q:What is your stand on nuclear power generation?

A:There are 10 nuclear reactors in Fukushima Prefecture and I don't feel negative about nuclear power. But if we are going to spend trillions of yen for pluthermal generation, I think it would be wiser to spend 1 trillion or 2 trillion yen to develop natural energy.

Q:Why are you distrustful of the government?

A:An interim report of the policy review panel points out that without the fast-breeder reactor Monju and Oma Nuclear Power Station in Aomori Prefecture (a planned project that would use plutonium-uranium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel), stockpiles of plutonium will continue to rise. A lecturer who spoke to the panel also urged an end to the practice of leaving policy-making to bureaucrats in Kasumigaseki. I think it's time we changed the policy-making process to one in which everyone takes part.

Q:There are signs that the government is changing. For example, it indicated that it would clarify plans to use plutonium. What do you think?

A:The government's grand design concerning the nuclear fuel cycle remains unclear. What are we going do to with fast-breeder reactors? Are we going to store spent nuclear fuel without reprocessing it? Brochures of the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy do not carry illustrations of fast-breeder reactors. The government should disclose information on what can and cannot be done.

Q:Fukushima Prefecture is considering raising the nuclear fuel tax. Does it have to do with acceptance of pluthermal generation?

A:The two are completely different problems that cannot be bartered. Revenues from the nuclear fuel tax (which is renewed once every five years) came to a total of about 28 billion yen during peak years. However, in the five years leading up to the current fiscal year, the revenues are expected to drop to about 14 billion yen, which is about half of what they used to be. Since it is a tax that can be used for such purposes as improved public welfare and disaster prevention, we wish to raise the level to what it used to be.

Q:Futaba in Fukushima Prefecture, which has a nuclear power plant, is supporting the pluthermal project and is demanding the governor improve relations with Tokyo Electric Power Co. How would you respond?

A:It is also demanding the building of additional nuclear power plants. But the number of farmers in the planned site decreased because they quit farming to take up jobs in the construction industry related to nuclear power plants. Futaba already has two nuclear power stations and it is questionable whether we need to build another one. No matter how much money the government spends, it won't lead to activating the local economy after construction is completed.

Q:What should be done with the approximately 30 tons of plutonium that has already been reprocessed in Europe?

A:That is something for the government to think about. If it needs to push ahead with the pluthermal project in a hurry, the government should work hard to campaign for it and implement it in an area that agrees to do it.

Referring to storage and disposal of spent fuel, a government bureaucrat once called it ``a problem for the governors of Aomori and Fukushima prefectures to discuss.'' Is such an irresponsible national policy acceptable?

Q:When is the panel due to come up with a conclusion?

A:We don't know. We could make a proposal after we see the conclusion. We could make a declaration to freeze the pluthermal project or decide some measures by ordinance. We have no definite plans yet.(IHT/Asahi: June 30,2002)

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INTERVIEW: Forum needed for parties to discuss nuclear concerns

The Asahi Shimbun, June 30, 2002
By Keiji Takeuchi and Toru Sasakoshi

Pluthermal nuclear power generation involves using plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel that is combined with uranium oxide to create mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. Last year, Fukushima Governor Eisaku Sato withdrew his support last year, having earlier championed Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) using the pluthermal process at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station in 1999.

Part of the reason for pulling the plug on the project was growing anxiety over falsified data concerning MOX fuel that was supposed to be used at a nuclear power plant operated by Kansai Electric Power Co. An announcement by TEPCO that it was freezing the construction of additional thermal power plants in Fukushima Prefecture also caused him to turn against the project.

TEPCO also has drawn up plans for pluthermal nuclear power generation at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture. But the program suffered a major setback after residents of Kariwa Village voted against it in a referendum last year.

Based on initial agreements, TEPCO has already delivered MOX fuel to the nuclear power plants in Fukushima and Niigata prefectures. Japan already has a large amount of plutonium stockpiled that was reprocessed in Europe at Japan's request. What to do with the stockpile has become a pressing problem.

The central government and TEPCO are unhappy with the refusal by Fukushima and Niigata prefectures to make good on their agreements. Officials fear similar situations could arise in future if local governments are allowed to ``veto'' initial agreements.

That caused Fukushima Prefecture to set up an independent panel to review the government's nuclear policy. It pointed out problems not only with the pluthermal plan but with the government's ``grand design of nuclear fuel cycle.''

This has resulted in a substantial delay in plans to maintain a balance between supply and demand of plutonium. One reason for this was a sodium leak in 1995 at Monju, a prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture. The accident caused the plant to be shut down. While the electric power industry wants to promote fast-breeder reactors as the mainstay of the nuclear fuel cycle, the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy is less eager. The future of nuclear-power generation in this country remains uncertain.

A yawning gap exists between the government and the electric power industry and Fukushima Prefecture. Although it is not easy to bridge the gap, the government and the Atomic Energy Commission should take the initiative to set up an open forum for all parties concerned to exchange views.(IHT/Asahi: June 30,2002)

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