News Watch

Japan’s Plutonium to be Handed over to France!?

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) signed a basic framework agreement with the French company Orano’s recycling subsidiary on March 30 regarding the transport and recycling of spent fuel from the Fugen advanced thermal reactor, which is undergoing decommissioning. In response, Ihara Junichi, current Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to France, exchanged a letter of agreement with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna on June 15 with the following content:

  1. The spent fuel that is the subject of the basic framework agreement is scheduled to be transported from Japan to the French Republic between April 1, 2023 and March 31, 2027.
  2. The spent fuel in question is scheduled to undergo recycling in the French Republic between April 1, 2024 and March 31, 2029.
  3. The plutonium and uranium generated during the reprocessing of the spent fuel in question shall be used for the purpose of producing nuclear fuel to be provided to nuclear power plants for the public good.
  4. The Government of Japan shall ensure that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency as a national research and development agency will receive the radioactive wastes generated by the reprocessing of the spent fuel referred to in the basic framework agreement, which shall be sent from the territory of the French Republic to the territory of Japan. The final day for returning the radioactive wastes in question to Japan shall be March 31, 2042.

(Items 5-9 omitted here.)

Subsequently, on June 24, JAEA and Orano concluded an implementation contract. The cost is reported to be about 34 billion yen.

A total of 731 spent fuel rods are to be transported in several shipments, consisting of 424 spent MOX fuel rods and 42 uranium fuel rods from the Fugen reactor, plus 153 unprocessed spent MOX and 112 spent uranium fuel rods that had been transferred with the intention of reprocessing to the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, where they are being kept. An estimated 1.3 tons of plutonium is expected to be generated during the reprocessing, and JAEA noted in the June 24 edition of its weekly newsletter that it would be “transferred to Orano’s recycling subsidiary for use by third parties outside Japan on the precondition of its provision for peaceful uses only.”

It goes without saying that plutonium is a substance that can be diverted for use in nuclear weapons. To transfer plutonium generated from nuclear fuel consumed in Japan to other countries on a commercial scale would be an extraordinary action that has been unthinkable until now, and the sneaking of this noteworthy fact inconspicuously into JAEA’s weekly newsletter while withholding the contract from public consideration is undeniably non-transparent.

Orano says it will select the business entities who will subsequently use the plutonium. We wonder if such users will be easy to find. While France is admittedly using plutonium in some of its thermal nuclear reactors, there are expected to be fewer such reactors in the future. Reprocessing cannot be undertaken without a clear plan for the products’ use. It is uncertain whether this reprocessing itself can be accomplished, let alone finding users.

Looking at JAEA’s history of contracts, they concluded a contract with Orano in 2015 for efforts to consider the transport and reprocessing of the Fugen reactor’s spent fuel, for which an implementation contract had already been concluded. Several other contracts subsequent to that exist. In addition, consideration of similar transport and reprocessing of the Monju reactor’s spent fuel began in 2018. It appears that this will be tied in with the implementation contract as well. It is therefore likely that this will turn out to be a contract for transferring plutonium “to Orano’s recycling company for use by third parties outside Japan on the precondition of its provision for peaceful uses only.”


Toshiba ESS to Deliver Equipment for Poland’s First Nuke

Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corporation announced on June 8 that it and its US affiliate Toshiba America Energy Systems Company (TAES) had reached an agreement with the US engineering and construction company Bechtel Power Corporation regarding cooperation on delivery of equipment for Poland’s first nuclear power plant (NPP). Bechtel is said to be engaged in collaborative activities with the US company Westinghouse for construction of AP1000 reactors, with Toshiba ESS and TAES having agreed to collaborate in providing steam turbines and generators for the AP1000.


Rokkasho Recycling Plant’s Gross Business Expenses Decrease for First Time

The Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan (NuRO) received authorization on June 14 from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry for the unit cost of contributions it requires from nuclear power companies for fiscal year 2021 with regard to spent fuel generated in the course of operating NPPs. In addition, it announced its outlook for business expenses, which form the basis for its unit cost calculations. According to the outlook, business expenses connected with reprocessing decreased by about 10 billion yen from the previous year to about 14.43 trillion yen, and business expenses for MOX fuel processing decreased by about 20 billion yen to about 2.41 trillion yen. The main factors in these decreases are said to be as follows:

  • Progress in discussions on regulatory compliance
  • Progress in discussions on additional measures for stable operation
  • Reflection of the latest economic indicators and other data in decommissioning costs
  • Progress in discussions on costs of procuring finances

This is the first decrease in expenses recorded since NuRO’s founding in 2016, but it still represents almost no change. The unit cost of contributions remains completely the same as before.


Four Former TEPCO Executives Ordered by Tokyo District Court to Pay 13 Trillion Yen

Judgement was passed in a suit seeking compensation for losses totaling 22 trillion yen resulting from the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO’s) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station filed by 48 TEPCO shareholders against five former executives representing TEPCO for having allowed the accident to occur by neglecting tsunami countermeasures. On July 13, Tokyo District Court ordered four of the former executives, former chairman Katsumata Tsunehisa, former president Shimizu Masataka, and former vice-presidents Takekuro Ichiro and Muto Sakae, to pay compensation of 13.321 trillion yen. The fifth former executive, former director Komori Akio, was exempted from liability for compensation.

Three of the four, Katsumata, Takekuro and Muto, had also been tried for professional negligence resulting in fatalities, as described in the article below. Tokyo District Court delivered a not guilty verdict on September 19, 2019, but the judgement this time was the complete opposite of that ruling.


TEPCO Criminal Trial Reaches Conclusion

The appeal trial of the TEPCO criminal trial that began on November 2, 2021 in Tokyo High Court, finished on June 6 after only three sessions with no witnesses having been examined. The TEPCO criminal trial had examined the criminal liability of three former TEPCO executives for professional negligence resulting in fatalities in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. In the first trial, Tokyo District Court delivered a verdict acquitting all three defendants on September 19, 2019 (see NIT No. 192).

The verdict of the appeal trial is scheduled to be delivered on January 18, 2023.

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