Dangerous pluthermal energy policy should be withdrawn -- Akahata editorial, April 20

Kansai Electric Power Co. has decided to procure fuels for pluthermal power generation starting from FY 2007 at Nos. 3 and 4 nuclear reactors in its Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture.

As seen in Kyushu Electric Power's similar announcement to carry out pluthermal generation at its Genkai nuclear power plant from FY 2008, electric power companies are gearing up to resume pluthermal energy programs which had been suspended due to public criticism.

These moves have been backed by the government's basic energy program of October 2003 calling for pluthermal generation to be steadily promoted.

Defying public calls for safer energy generation

In pluthermal power generation, plutonium extracted during reprocessing of used fuel from nuclear reactors is made into mixed oxide (MOX) with uranium that can be used as fuel for light-water nuclear reactors. Plutonium has two hundred thousand times greater radioactivity than uranium, and when it burns in a nuclear reactor, alpha rays that are dangerous when taken into human bodies, gamma rays with strong penetrating power, and neutron beams greatly increase. In case of severe accidents in which radioactive substances leak from a reactor, damages will be far greater than when uranium is used as fuel.

Even at the stage of reprocessing, work involves the danger of workers being exposed to excessive radiation and involves difficulty of regulating criticality. Processing used MOX fuel is more dangerous, and there is no safe procedure for processing and disposal.

The government nuclear energy policy is based on the plutonium cycle formula in which all used nuclear fuel is reprocessed to extract plutonium to be used as fuel in the cycle. More than 7,000 tons of used fuel have been exported abroad for reprocessing, from which 33 tons of plutonium have been retrieved.

However, the 1995 accident involving the "Monju" reactor, which was then regarded as the surest way for the use of plutonium, drove Japan's policy of developing fast breeder reactors into a corner. Because plutonium could be used for producing nuclear weapons, possessing extra amounts of plutonium has not been supported internationally.

Then in 1997, the pluthermal plan surfaced as the main way to reuse plutonium without any basic study on its safety or its disposal.

Though the government and electric power companies planned to start operating pluthermal plants at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) in 1999, they had to cancel the plan in the face of opposition from the public calling for safety-first.

Also, due to the 1999 criticality accident at the nuclear fuel processing plant at the Tokai Office of the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, the "safety myth" of Japan's nuclear power generation has been dispelled. In the 2001 referendum on running MOX fuel facilities at TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, the majority of villagers said "No." In 2002, TEPCO's cover-ups of accidents at its nuclear power plants were revealed. Fukushima and Niigata prefectures canceled their agreements concerning the promotion of the pluthermal plan.

In 1999, KEPCO.'s fabrication of MOX fuel data at its Takaoka plant came to light. This increased public anxiety about poor information in accessing to check the safety of MOX fuel to be ordered.

Clearly, the government's plutonium recycling plan ignoring public concern and criticism has failed and the pluthermal plan was introduced in order to gloss over this failure. Resuming the plan is a grave defiance of public concern and the movement calling for the safety of nuclear policy.

End plutonium recycling system

Most of the major western countries have given up plutonium recycling system because of high costs and technological problems. Fukushima Prefecture in its proposal urged the government to halt the new nuclear power system and involve the public in debates concerning the pros and cons to the plan.

The government must stop the pluthermal plan and make an overall review of its nuclear power policy giving priority to the plutonium cycle system. (end)

Copyright (c) Japan Press Service Co., Ltd. All right reserved.