International Critical Review on Japanese Long-Term Nuclear Program Interview with Hideaki Takemura Nuke Info Tokyo No. 105

Past issues of NIT have reported on the fact that our Co-Director, Hideyuki Ban, is a member of the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) New Nuclear Policy-Planning Council. (Recently AEC determined the official English title. Previously we referred to it by various names, including ‘Long Term Nuclear Program Planning Committee’). NIT 104 briefly discussed the Planning Council’s Interim Report released last November. The Interim Report dealt with the nuclear fuel cycle, in particular with the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. An international panel has now been established to critique this report. We interviewed one of the instigators of this project, Hideaki Takemura of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP).

1. What is the name and purpose of the project?
It is called the International Critical Review on Japanese Long-Term Nuclear Program (Chokei in Japanese) (ICRC). The Interim Report was issued as Japan Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (JNFL) was preparing to begin uranium trials at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, so it is likely that the conclusions were strongly influenced by political factors. The purpose of the critical review panel is to reassess the contents of the Interim Report from an objective international standpoint and to critically review the decision-making process.

2. What aspect of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Facility will you focus on?
The plutonium use policy, which is the underlying condition for the operation of Rokkasho.
The international review will focus on five key questions: energy security, compatibility with the ‘junkangata shakai’ concept, non-proliferation, costs associated with a change of policy, and the policy decision-making process.

  • In the Interim Report, energy security was explained as though all nuclear power plants would cease operating if spent fuel were not reprocessed.
  • ‘Junkangata shakai’ is a Japanese concept. It is something of a mixture of the English concepts of ‘closed-loop economy’ and ‘ecological sustainability’. It was discussed in terms of the notion that the use of plutonium reduces waste and conserves resources.
  • The Interim Report suggested that direct disposal presents greater proliferation risks than reprocessing.
  • Although direct disposal was found to be cheaper than reprocessing, when costs associated with a change of policy were factored in, the surprising conclusion was that reprocessing was cheaper.
  • We want to assess these issues in the light of international standards.

3. Why did you start this project now?
Not allowing the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant to commence operations is a key issue in Japan’s energy policy. The Interim Report points to the fact that 2 trillion yen has already been poured into the plant and gives the cost of a change of policy as a reason for not making such a change. If the reprocessing plant becomes operational and even bigger investments continue to be made, it will become even more difficult for Japan to change direction.

4. Who will participate in the project?
There will be four panelists on the international review panel: Fred Barker (UK), Frank von Hippel (USA), Mycle Scheider (France) and Christian Kueppers (Germany). From Japan, there will be Professor Hitoshi Yoshioka of Kyushu University (Chairperson), Takeo Kikkawa (Tokyo University), Tetsunari Iida (Director of ISEP), Yuichi Kaido (Japan Federation of Bar Associations, Committee for Preservation of Environment) and You Fujimura (Kyoto University).

5. How do you plan to carry out the project?
First we will send the panelists the English translation of the Interim Report (available on CNIC’s web site) along with key questions and ask them to make an assessment. At the end of March we will invite the overseas panelists to Japan and have an international assessment meeting. This will give the overseas panelists and the Japanese panelists a chance to exchange ideas and information. The overseas panelists will then send their final assessment. This will be translated into Japanese. The Japanese panelists will add their comments and a final report will be released around June.

6. What do you hope to achieve?
The fact that the Interim Report is at variance with international debate will be made clear. This recognition will be shared by the Japanese mass media and policy makers (politicians). It might even become a factor in preventing the reprocessing plant from proceeding to the active trial phase.

7. Are there any additional comments you would like to direct to NIT’s readers?
It is important to rally opposition to the reprocessing of spent fuel from a wide range of people, not just from those who are opposed to nuclear energy per se. We also want to hear the views of NIT readers about the New Nuclear Policy-Planning Council’s Interim Report.

(Click here for final report)

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