NEWS WATCH from NUKE INFO TOKYO 78 (July/Aug. 2000)
from NUKE INFO TOKYO 78 (July/Aug. 2000)
— Liberal Democratic Party Drafts Comprehensive Energy Policy
— Ministerial Reorganization to Affect Nuclear Industry
— Compensation for Damages Due to JCO Accident Totals 11.56 Billion Yen
— Policy Formulated for Decisions on Nuclear Damage Compensation
— Test Operation at Tokai Reprocessing Plant Begins
— Japan, U.S. Agree to Further Cooperation in Burning Russia’s Dismantled Plutonium
The Subcommittee on Comprehensive Energy Policy, set up by the LDP in March, published its first interim report on 24 May 2000. While calling for a steady promotion of nuclear power, the report clearly stated that it has “become less urgent” to commercialize the fast-breeder reactor. Referring to the nuclear fuel cycle, the Subcommittee said that they would discuss the possibility of taking a flexible attitude. The report pointed out that we are in an era in which we should be asking what we should do with the demand, rather than what the demand will be. In this respect it reflects the notion of “demand-side management.”
In its 30 May 2000 Cabinet meeting, the government drafted the ordinance for the ministerial reorganization which is scheduled to be carried out from January 2001. According to this ordinance, commercial reactors will be placed under the jurisdiction of the newly-created Ministry of Economy and Industry. The Agency of Natural Resources and Energy will be controlled by the Ministry as before. However, the department responsible for nuclear safety regulation, which is now under the Agency, will be transferred to the Nuclear Power Safety and Security Board, a newly-established organ of the Agency.
The research and development of nuclear power will be placed under the jurisdiction of the newly-created Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. In this ministry there will be no independent safety regulation department.
On 10 May 2000, JCO released figures on the amount of compensation paid to local residents as of the end of April. According to JCO, there were about 6,540 cases in which compensation had been agreed between the company and local residents and local businesses. This compensation totaled 11.56 billion yen, the bulk of which had been paid through financial assistance from the parent company, Sumitomo Metal Mining, Co., Ltd. The cases which have yet to reach an agreement are about 380, and it seems difficult for them to reach an agreement, since among them there is one company that is claiming for several billion yen.
The Study Committee on Nuclear Power-Related Damages, set up by the Science and Technology Agency in October 1999, submitted a report on 26 May 2000, to the Atomic Energy Commission. It contains some basic ideas on various damages incurred as a result of the JCO accident. According to the report, a bodily injury will not be compensated unless the claimant proves that the injury was caused by radiation. This means that an injury cannot be compensated unless an acute disorder appears. Psychological suffering cannot be recognized as damage unless there are special circumstances.
As for business damages, the Committee has limited these to the decreased income incurred during the period between the accident (30 September 1999) and the end of November 1999. This fails to acknowledge the reality of the damages which are still being felt by some local businesses. It seems that cases where compensation negotiations with JCO have not been settled (see the previous article) are claims of business damages.
Tokai Reprocessing Plant, owned by Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC, formerly PNC), began a month-long test operation on 29 June 2000 while having no credible justification for pursuing reprocessing. The reprocessing plant had been shut down since the fire and explosion at the Bituminization Facility in 1997. The plan is to reprocess a portion of the spent fuel stored on site in a storage pool during the test period, and then to begin a full operation and reprocess about 40 tons of spent fuel by March 2001. The spent fuel to be reprocessed originated from Tokai II Reactor of the Japan Atomic Power Co. Ltd. and totals 5.7 tons. The Village Assembly of Tokai-mura expressed its approval for the re-operation of the plant in May, 2000. However, no official approval has been given from the village. Neither JNC or the government has specified the usage of the extracted plutonium.
On 3 May 2000, during his visit to the United States, Japan’s Science and Technology Agency Minister Nakasone Hirofumi and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Bill Richardson signed an agreement on a new technological cooperation project for burning Russia’s dismantled plutonium. The Japanese government is now considering a contribution of about 100 million yen to this project in the 2001 financial year.
The agreement is to develop and provide Russia with a new type of high-temperature gas reactor, in which dismantled plutonium can be more effectively burned. Japan and the U.S. have already cooperated in burning plutonium from Russia’s dismantled nuclear arsenal, using the country’s BN-600 Fast Breeder Reactor. The recent agreement is for further cooperation. Even though this project concerns the disposal of plutonium, Japan’s direct involvement in nuclear arsenal-class plutonium must not be allowed.