Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) invests in SMR development company NuScale
By Mitsuta Kanna, FoE Japan
On April 6, 2022, Friends of the Earth Japan (FoE Japan) issued a statement protesting the decision of Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), wholly owned by the Japanese Government, to invest 110 million U.S. dollars in NuScale Power, an American company committed to research and development in small modular reactors (SMRs).
Even though SMRs are small, they will essentially have the same problems as conventional nuclear power plants: they will generate life-cycle radioactive contamination and nuclear wastes, pose risks of accidents, and have the potential of being targets of terrorist or wartime attacks. While it is still unknown how existing nuclear wastes can be disposed of, the development of SMRs will end up creating another source of nuclear wastes.
In terms of economy, SMRs are questionable in many respects: Even if the reactor itself is smaller than a conventional power plant, as it will require equally costly peripheral facilities and antiterrorism safeguards, the cost per unit of power generated is likely to be higher.
In addition, it is unjustifiable to support this venture with public funding.
JBIC classified this investment project into Category C, “Acquisition of rights and interests without additional capital investment,” as outlined in the JBIC Guidelines for Confirmation of Environmental and Social Considerations. This means that JBIC will not disclose further information about this project.
The JBIC Guidelines have been established and enhanced because of continual lobbying by NGOs, including FoE Japan, in consideration of the cases where infrastructure or natural resource development projects supported by the loans and investments from Japan’s public funding resulted in international environmental damage or human rights abuses. Public information disclosure and stakeholder participation are major components of the Guidelines.
JBIC established the Guidelines for Confirmation of Information Disclosure Considerations for Nuclear Sector Projects in December 2017, because information disclosure about nuclear projects is relatively limited, compared with other projects.
On April 27, 2022, FoE Japan, with Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center (CNIC), held a meeting with JBIC concerning this NuScale issue, communicating our concerns and demanding the cancellation of the investment. We requested that JBIC should disclose as much information as possible about the project.
FoE’s Statement on this issue can be read at
SMR is not exempt from risks associated with radioactive contamination, nuclear waste, accidents, terrorism or war
On April 5, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), a public financial institution wholly owned by the Japanese government, announced an investment in NuScale Power, an American private company1. The investment by JBIC is approximately US$110 million. NuScale is a company that specializes in the research and development of small modular reactors (SMRs)2. The Japanese government outlined in its Basic Energy Plan that it will promote research into small-scale nuclear reactors, and JBIC stated that “this investment is based on the policy of the Japanese government.”
FoE Japan protests this acquisition of shares by JBIC and requests the withdrawal of its investment for the following reasons.
- Despite the new guise, SMRs are no different from conventional nuclear power plants in that they have the same problems of life-cycle radioactive contamination, nuclear waste, and accident risk, as well as the risk of becoming targets of terrorism and war. SMRs will create more nuclear waste, in spite of the fact methods of disposal of existing nuclear waste have not yet been decided. The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant Disaster has not been resolved, and the Ukraine Crisis has made the dangers of nuclear power plants increasingly clear. We cannot tolerate the investment of public funds into the continued use of nuclear power.
- It is claimed that factory production of SMRs will maintain quality and enable mass production, which will lead to cost reductions. However, it is difficult to imagine that demand for reactors will arise to such an extent that “mass production” can be achieved, and since the necessary costs for related facilities, anti-terrorism measures, etc. remain the same regardless of the size of the reactor, the cost per unit of power generated will actually increase rather than decrease. The reality is that without subsidies, implementing SMRs is not a realistic option3. SMRs are not economically viable and will only delay truly necessary measures to combat climate change. There is no justification for using public funding.
When JBIC provides loans or guarantees, all projects are screened and categorized based on the “JBIC Guidelines for Confirmation of Environmental and Social Considerations” (hereinafter referred to as the “Environmental Guidelines”). For nuclear projects, JBIC has established “Guidelines for Confirmation of Information Disclosure Considerations for Nuclear Sector Projects” (hereinafter referred to as the “the Information Disclosure Guidelines”), based on which information is disclosed to the public.
The guideline states that, “The Information Disclosure Guidelines are intended to allow JBIC to make the utmost effort to secure proper Information Disclosure Considerations, with the understanding that nuclear safety is the foremost priority with respect to the use of nuclear power, taking into consideration the lessons learned from the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.4” However, under the Environmental Guidelines, this project is classified as Category C5, “sectors or projects in which no particular environmental impact is normally expected (stock acquisition without additional capital investment), and as outlined in the Environmental Guidelines, does not have sensitive characteristics, is not located in or near a sensitive area, and does not have a significant impact on human rights.” For this reason, little information has been made publicly available.
While this is an acquisition of shares in a company conducting research, NuScale aims to commercialize small-scale reactors, and it cannot be said that there are no foreseeable environmental, social, or human rights impacts. Rather, it would be a direct association to a project with large-scale and irreversible environmental and social impacts.
Therefore, JBIC should have originally designated this project as Category A and conducted the necessary environmental review along with appropriate information disclosure. The decision to fund this project was in violation of JBIC’s own guidelines, and JBIC failed to follow the required procedures.
- Japan Bank for International Cooperation press release, “Equity Participation in NuScale Power, LLC” (April 4, 2022) www.jbic.go.jp/en/information/press/press-2022/0404-016140.html
JBIC will make the investment through a special purpose investment entity established by JGC and IHI to invest in NuScale in 2021.
- SMR refers to a reactor with a power output of approximately 300,000 kW or less, manufactured in a factory and assembled on site on a module-by-module basis.
- Presentation prepared by Matsukubo Hajime, “Are small-scale reactors the energy of the future?” (January 27, 2022) (Japanese) www.foejapan.org/energy/fukushima/pdf/20220127_1.pdf
- Japan Bank for International Cooperation, “JBIC Guidelines for Confirmation of Information Disclosure Considerations for Nuclear Sector Projects” (December 2017) www.jbic.go.jp/en/business-areas/environment/images/consultation02.pdf
- Categories (Acquisition of shares of a U.S. corporation) accessed 6th April (no longer available) www.jbic.go.jp/en/business-areas/environment/projects/page.html?ID=63244&lang=en