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Japan: Nuclear Madness
by Satomi Oba
Published 13 November 2003
A report from Japan for the conference in Linz, Austria, November 2003.
Since President Bush seized power in a highly questionable way in November 2000, the global situation has become more serious and gloomy with the intensification of a pro-nuclear energy policy in the U.S., as well as of the continued research and development of mini-nukes, the continued conducting of underground subcritical tests, and the continued nuclearization of space.
Especially after 9.11. 2001, the US call for war on terrorism has deeply undermined the long-established international framework for peace and security of the worl. Even in this dismal situation, we have several pieces of good news regarding the nuclear energy issue:
1) The Monju verdict in Japan (January)
II. The Monju FBR and the Japanese MOX program
Japan now has 51 commercial reactors in operation. Besides these PWRs and WRs, there is a prototype fast breeder reactor named "Monju" in the Fukui Prefecture. The Monju reactor started its operations in August 1995, but it has been shut down since its sodium leak and fire that occurred in December of the same year. The FBR project was the major goal of Japan’s nuclear program, being a plan to produce more plutonium than is consumed as it burns in the reactor.
The residents in the vicinity of Monju as well as citizens around Japan are gravely concerned, and the local people have been struggling in court over this issue. On January 27, 2003, the Nagoya High Court ruled out the construction standard of the Monju reactor, accepting the plaintiff’s arguments re: the high risk of sodium fire and collapse of the core, though it rejected the argument on the seismic risks of the Monju design.
The victory was gained by means of the long, hard struggle of the residents, citizens, and experts working together. International support was also a helpful factor in achieving this positive outcom.
However, the government is angry with this verdict and has appealed it to the supreme court. Further, it intends to repair the plant before the supreme court hands down its judgment, planning to restart it as soon as possible.
Japan will eventually obtain more than 400 tons of plutonium according to a calculation based on the government’s long-term nuclear energy project which began in November 2000. Japan has already obtained more than 30 tons of plutonium separated from spent fuel. However, as yet, there is no definitive perspective about how the plutonium is to be used.
As the result of the Monju accident and its shut-down, the government now plans to burn plutonium in the conventional reactors in the form of plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. But because of the series of scandals and defaults at the reactors around the country, the MOX program planned in three prefectures (Fukui, Fukushima, and Niigata) has faced strong local grassroots resistance, and is now at a complete stand still. The utilities are losing the public’s trust rapidly, because of their attempt to hide the falsification of fuel data supplied by the BNFL (1999), and their attempted cover-up of records regarding the cracks at the reactors of TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) (2002), as well as of the criticality accident at the JCO company in
However, Kansai Electric (KEPCO) is planning to contract with French COGEMA to fabricate MOX fuel at its facility. (WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 594) KEPCO emphasizes that they will "take every opportunity to promote activities...to gain back public trust in nuclear power".
The Japanese utilities have sent more than 7000 tons of spent fuel for separating plutonium to Sellafield in Britain and La Hague in France.
The Japanese government and utilities argue that nuclear power is safe and clean, and is essential for preventing global warming by means of avoiding CO2 emissions. They also insist that electric demand will continue to grow, so we need more nuclear energy. We Japanese citizens have been overwhelmed by daily propaganda on TV, and in the newspapers. But very few people have been informed that our nuclear waste has been shipped to foreign countries and is contaminating the environment there with deadly poisons. There was almost no media coverage of this at the OSPAR meeting, as well as of the increase of leukaemia cases in the vicinity of the reprocessing plants. There has been no major report in the media about the BNFL’s decision to close THORP by 2010.
Reprocessing is a chemical process to extract plutonium and unburned uranium 235 from the spent fuel of nuclear reactors. The Japanese government, in response to criticism concerning nuclear proliferation, insists that the plutonium Japan is separating is reactor grade for "peaceful use", not weapons grade (more than 93 percent purity) .
But experts point out that reactor grade plutonium could be diverted into military use. According to the IAEA, 8kg of reactor grade plutonium is a "significant quantity", enough to make one nuclear bomb.
As we see no demand for commercial use of plutonium, a major and obvious question is why is Japan going to operate the huge reprocessing plant constructed in Rokkashomura, Aomori Prefecture?
The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant had been scheduled to start testing using uranium in October 2003, and to start operation in July 2005. But in September, the government and operator announced the delay of the start-up of the plant until July 2006, while uranium testing is to be delayed three months, until January 2004. This is because of problems such as water leakage from the spent fuel pool, as well as nearly 300 failures of pipe welding.
If the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant does start operation, it will have the capacity to separate 7 tons of plutonium per year. It will continuously contaminate the environment in a wide area surrounding it. Once the uranium testing starts, the whole plant will be contaminated and it would be very difficult to return to past conditions.
Therefore, we demand the cancellation of the reprocessing program, not merely delaying the start-up of the operation.
IV. Japan’s involvement in nuclear colonialism
The first victims of the nuclear death chain have been indigenous peoples around the world. The nuclear cycle including uranium mining, processing of nuclear weapons, nuclear testing, operation of nuclear power plants, and waste dumping, all conducted primarily on the lands of indigenous peoples. The Japanese utilities are importing uranium for "peaceful use of nuclear power" from the indigenous peoples’ lands in North America, Africa, and Australia.
The victory of the Jabiluka Campaign in Australia was the first success that Japanese citizens were involved in. In late July 2003, Rio Tint finally decided to abandon its plan to explore new mining at the World Heritage site in the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia. KEPCO and several other companies had invested in the project. The victory at Kakadu was achieved by the cooperative action of the traditional landowners and Australian environmental movements supported by worldwide anti-nuclear opinion. The campaign included peaceful direct action. Quite a few Japanese citizens’ groups, especially groups in Kansai district (Kyoto, Osaka), joined the campaign when the World Heritage Committee was held in Kyoto in 1998.
The story of the aboriginal people in Kakadu is included in the book "Pacific Women Speak Out" (Edited by Zhol de Ishtar) together with other impressive testimonies of the islanders about their harsh experience under nuclear colonialism and their brave struggle for a nuclear free and independent Pacific. (English, German, and Japanese versions are available.)
V. Nuclear exports from Japan
Proliferation of nuclear power plants in Asia is a major concern. While the construction of new NPPs has almost stopped in America and Europe, a pro-nuclear energy policy based on the NPT is gaining strength in South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan. Western nuclear countries are seeking a new market in South-Eastern Asian countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Philippines.
Since 1993, No Nukes Asia Forum, the Asian anti-nuclear network, has been vigorously working to prevent further proliferation of nuclear power plants in this region.
Taiwan (the Republic of China) has a history of nuclear weapons development during the 1980’s, and has not yet signed the NPT. There are six nuclear reactors in operation at three sites in Taiwan.
The Japanese companies Hitachi, Toshiba, and Mitsubishi, in cooperation with the US company GE, are constructing two reactors of the fourth NPP (ABWR) on the northeast coast of Taiwan despite opposition of the Taiwanese people. The site is in a national park and it originally belonged to the indigenous people there. The construction started without any information or any consultation with the indigenous people.
Instead, the people’s homes were torn down after the residents were
In June, 2003, a cargo ship loaded with a pressure vessel of a reactor
From the seismic viewpoint, it is unbelievable that there are 50-plus
Geologically speaking, Japan enjoyed a comparatively calm period for
A geologist, Dr. Sunao Ogose, had warned that such a disaster could take
This year, Japan experienced three big earthquakes in May, July, and
The latest one hit Hokkaido on September 26, and it was huge,
According to plate tectonics theory, Japan is floating on huge plates
Citizens in the Shizuoka Prefecture filed a lawsuit to shut down the NPP
The Monju FBR, although it has been shut down since December 1995, is
Seismic problems are also extremely serious at the Rokkasho Reprocessing
There are also many other dangerous seismic situations. In 1997, there
Again, there is no way to forecast an earthquake exactly, and the
However, more experts and politicians than ever are now expressing
VII. Nuclear Proliferation
The second NPT review conference is to be held in New York in 2005. The
On the other hand, Article 4 of the NPT --- the right to "atoms for
The IAEA’s role is a contradictory one — that of nuclear watchdog, and
Japan is openly promoting a massive use of plutonium under the guise of
Japan has the capability for creating nuclear warheads and also for
Further, regardless of the legal obligation for a peaceful space
It is ironic that the war on Iraq has resulted in greater public
DU is waste generated by the nuclear chain involving both military and
VIII. Our desire
Now, more than ever, the anti-nuclear energy movement must join with the
It is natural and vital for us to coordinate these movements globally in
I express my deepest gratitude to Sally Light who patiently edited my
Satomi Oba (WISE Japan)
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