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HOME  > Past issues  > 2018 August 22 - 28  > Japan must abandon nuclear fuel cycle project
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2018 August 22 - 28 TOP3 [POLITICS]

Japan must abandon nuclear fuel cycle project

August 23, 2018

Akahata editorial (excerpt)

The Japan Atomic Energy Commission at the end of July decided on a new basic policy regarding the use of plutonium which seeks to decrease Japan’s possession of this nuclear material. The nation’s nuclear policy was amended for the first time in 15 years.

Japan stores a large amount of plutonium which can be used to produce nuclear weapons. Amid the growing international concern about this situation from the viewpoint of nuclear non-proliferation, the Japanese government has been driven into deciding to reduce its plutonium stockpile.

The Japanese government has long sought to realize a nuclear fuel cycle in which plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel will be reused as nuclear fuel. In order to achieve this, the government promoted the development of the fast breeder reactor “Monju” which uses plutonium and also promoted the construction of reprocessing facilities of spent nuclear fuel. While doing this, the government outsourced the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to the U.K. and France. However, the development of the Monju reactor reached a deadlock after a sodium leak and the resultant fire accident occurred 23 years ago and in 2016 its operator decided to decommission the reactor. Instead of the Monju project, the government pushes on with the plutonium-thermal project to use plutonium-based fuel in non-fast-breeder reactors. The government intends to carry out this project utilizing 16-18 reactors across Japan, but currently, only four reactors are being used under this project due to growing public criticism over a series of accidents and incidents pertaining to the nuclear fuel cycle project.

Now, Japan has 47 tons of plutonium, far more than any other non-nuclear weapons state. With this amount, 6,000 nuclear warheads can be produced.

Japan’s plutonium stockpile grew to an extraordinarily high level because of the failure of its attempt to realize a nuclear fuel cycle. Despite this, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s government still sticks to the failed attempt and the plutonium-thermal technology, which the government asserts will contribute to cutting the amount of plutonium in storage. However, even with this technology, a reactor consumes only 0.5 tons of the material a year.

In addition, another reprocessing facility is scheduled to be completed in 2021 in Aomori Prefecture. When this plant goes into operation, an additional seven tons of plutonium will be extracted yearly. While admitting to the need to have less plutonium, the government is working to produce more. No one can miss the contradiction.

The Abe government should give up trying to make use of plutonium and abandon the nuclear fuel cycle. What is more, the government must not reactivate offline nuclear reactors as resumption will lead to the creation of more plutonium.

Past related articles:
> Abe gov’t energy plan disregards domestic and global trend toward departure from nuclear power generation [July 4, 2018]
> Under Abe gov’t, spent nuclear fuel storage approaches capacity limit [October 19, 2017]

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