January 1998 Editorial
Last in First Out
Japan is a latecomer. Japan is not a nuclear weapon state and therefore
not in a position to develop plutonium technology in the framework of
a nuclear weapons program. Japanese plutonium separation technology
and plutonium fuel fabrication heavily depend on the French and US governments.
When the demonstration fast breeder reactor Monju experienced a severe
sodium fire and was shut down in December 1995, it had been generating
electricity for barely four months. The equivalent French reactor, Phenix,
had at that time, been connected to the national grid for 22 years,
while the British PFR had been disconnected from the national grid since
1994 after 20 years of operation.
Japan is lucky to be a latecomer. Considering the spectacular failure
of the multi billion dollar plutonium investments in other countries,
Japan ironically has more freedom of choice than others. While France
and the UK have - so far - proven notoriously incapable of adapting
their 30 year old plutonium policies to current realities and Germany
has exported its plutonium problem to France and the UK, Japan is still
able to avoid the pursuit of projects which have proven inefficient
and expensive elsewhere: such as the large scale fast breeder, Superphenix,
which was shut down on Christmas day, 1996, after 10 years of unprecedented
bad performance or massive reprocessing facilities like those of Sellafield
in Britain or La Hague in France, which have been stockpiling dozens
of tons of plutonium at a horrendous cost and a zero market value. Last
in first out ?
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