News Watch 147 March/April 2012 Nuke Info Tokyo No. 147
Proposal within the Democratic Party of Japan to stop the nuclear fuel cycle
The Study Group on Nuclear Back End Issues was formed by 70 people, of whom 18 are DPJ members of parliament. The group is headed by Sumio Mabuchi, a member of the Lower House and former Minister of Land and Infrastructure. On February 7, the group submitted its first proposal to Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura at the prime minister’s official residence.
The proposal stated that Japan should withdraw from the linear view of the nuclear fuel cycle that posits “Operation of a reprocessing plant→ Construction of a demonstration fast breeder reactor→ Construction of a commercial fast breeder reactor.” Regarding spent fuel, the proposal states that, “Until a final disposal method can be found in the future, waste material should be stored in a responsible manner.” The proposal also adds that, “However, the possibility of seeking fuel cycle technology through international cooperation will not be denied.”
The proposal also called for “the suspension of the operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant for the time being” and “suspension of the usage of plutonium in thermal reactors for the time being.” Finally, on the Monju Prototype FBR, the proposal stated, “An action plan for bringing research to an end should be drafted, after which a discussion on how to handle the issue, including the possibility of international research on the matter, can be started from scratch by specialists.”
In an interview with the Tokyo Shimbun published on February 26 Mr. Mabuchi stated regarding the nuclear fuel cycle, “It must be said that it has been a fiction. The 54 commercial nuclear plants nationwide have been operating just as if the nuclear fuel cycle could be used. While we still have this fiction as a premise, nuclear power plants cannot be stopped and even voices to restart the temporarily halted nuclear plants are raised.”
Group within the Liberal Democratic Party propose withdrawal from nuclear power.On February 9, the LDP parliamentary group on energy policy (one of the representatives being Diet member Tar? K?no) drafted a proposal to abandon nuclear power. The proposal was presented to the party’s Special Commission on Energy Policy, lead by Ichita Yamamoto.
The proposal calls, amongst others, for the following: “No new commercial nuclear power plant construction or renewals,” “Closure of nuclear plants that have been running for more than 40 years,” “No governmental support for the export of nuclear power plants,” “Construction of a facility for the long-term dry storage of spent fuel,” “Closure of the Monju fast breeder reactor,” “Suspension of the development of commercial fast breeder reactors,” and “Closure of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant before any further operation takes place.”
Draft bill of law to overhaul nuclear energy organizations presented to parliamentOn January 31, two bills for restructuring nuclear energy organizations were signed and sent to parliament by cabinet decision.
The most important points are;
- The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency will be separated from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), reformed as the Nuclear Regulatory Authority and placed under the Ministry of the Environment.
- The Nuclear Safety Commission, now under the Cabinet Office, will be abolished and a Nuclear Safety Investigatory Commission will be established as an advisory body to the Minister of the Environment in order to act as a watchdog to the Nuclear Regulatory Authority.
- The operation of nuclear power plants will be limited to 40 years. However an extension of a maximum of 20 years will be allowed.
- Clear indication that regulations exist “to protect people and the environment from harmful radiation.”
- Safety regulations will be changed to include the possibility of major accidents.
- The latest knowledge will be used (or “reflected”) in existing facilities. (This knowledge may not be expressly stated in laws, but will be entrusted to Ministry of the Environment notifications that will be produced after laws have been passed.)
- Enhancement of the disaster prevention system.
Of these, points 4 to 7 can be judged as not going far enough. However, points 1 to 3 contain major problems. Firstly, regarding point 1, the removal of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority from the nuclear energy-promoting METI to the Ministry of the Environment does not guarantee an independent position. Regarding point 2, the Nuclear Safety Investigatory Commission will not be under the Ministry of the Environment but will simply be one part of a secretariat that performs this function as well carrying out self-assessment on the situation regarding the implementation of regulations under one section of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority. This will make it impossible to guarantee the independence of the Commission. Finally, regarding point 3, the 40-year operation limit, there is a three-year grace period for extension procedures from the date of implementation of the amendment of the law. Within this grace period all nuclear power plants, including the ones over 40 years old, are permitted to continue operation.
On February 17, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, K?ichir? Gemba announced that in the light of the Fukushima nuclear accident an international conference on nuclear safety will be held in Fukushima Prefecture from December 15 to 17. The conference will likely be held in Koriyama City, and will be co-hosted by the IAEA. On December 15, an official ministerial level meeting will be held, and meetings of specialists will take place on December 16 and 17.
Budget proposal for nuclear energy doubling to handle accidentOn February 14, the Cabinet Office calculated the costs relating to nuclear energy for the 2012 budget proposal. Compared to the 433 billion yen for last year, the amount will be more than doubled to 883.9 billion yen. Of this amount 56%, 494.5 billion yen, has been reserved for decontamination, monitoring of radiation and other costs related to the Fukushima nuclear accident. The remaining budget is 10% lower than that of last year. The budget for developing fast breeder reactors is 30 billion yen, 25% lower, and 50.4 billion yen has been proposed for the establishment of the new Nuclear Regulatory Agency.
Request for Referendum on Nuclear Energy
On February 14, a petition with 55,000 valid signatures was presented to Osaka Mayor T?ru Hashimoto. The petition for a referendum on nuclear energy was drafted by a citizens group. It was announced on February 9 that the same kind of activity in Tokyo has resulted in 300,000 signatures. This petition will be presented to all of the election committees of wards, cities, towns and villages in the Tokyo Metropolis. If the petition is judged to be valid it will be presented to Shintar? Ishihara, the Governor of Tokyo.
Both Mayor Hashimoto and Governor Ishihara are opposed to a referendum. The chances of a referendum actually being held by the City Council of Osaka or the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly are unfortunately slim.