Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan Contributing to the World Through Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Technology
NAKAMURA Masao / Research Advisor Emeritus, Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry

October 14, 2005
Japan is the only country in the world that possesses a commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. The plant extracts plutonium from spent fuel generated by nuclear reactors, and the United States has maintained a policy of denying possession of such plants by countries including North Korea and Iran to prevent nuclear proliferation. Japan was granted approval under a nuclear cooperation agreement signed with the United States in 1988.

The commercial plant was completed in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, and remains in operation today. During negotiations with the United States over its national nuclear development program, the North Korean representative was reported to have questioned why Japan was granted possession of a reprocessing plant but not North Korea. Quite a few number of experts -- including those in the United States -- believe that Japan's closure of the Rokkasho Plant would effectively restrict nuclear weapons development not only in North Korea, but throughout the world. The Rokkasho Plant thus faces pressure from the world's anti-plutonium camp.

Director General Mohamed Elbaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has announced plans to suspend construction of new enrichment and reprocessing plants over a five-year period and placing existing plants under international supervision. The Japanese government has come out against such a plan, because the Rokkasho Plant, with several tens of IAEA inspectors permanently stationed there, is in effect already under international supervision. Implementation of this plan would freeze Japan's own plans of constructing a plant for processing extracted plutonium into nuclear reactor fuel. That would disable the use of plutonium and force the reprocessing plant out of operation. It would put a hold on Japan's nuclear fuel policy based on the use of plutonium.

Almost all Japanese are against possessing nuclear weapons. Nuclear ambitions on the part of Japan would invite an international economic blockade that would prevent it from exporting its industrial products and importing food, energy and industrial raw materials, forcing it to give up such an idea. Japan has nothing to gain and everything to lose by possessing nuclear weapons. Therefore there is no cause for concern on that front.

Anti-plutonium activists in the United States claim that while the U.S. government is making a considerable effort to prevent countries on the Korean Peninsula, in the Middle East and Southeast Asia from using plutonium, Japan is only interested in its own energy needs, which stand at a self-sufficiency rate of only 4%. They accuse Japan of not doing its part in maintaining world order. However, Japan's use of plutonium is not a self-serving endeavor.

The U.S. administration of President George Bush recently announced a complete reversal of its nuclear fuel policy, opting to construct a domestic reprocessing plant and to use plutonium as fuel for power reactors. To lower U.S. dependency on foreign oil, the administration had decided to increase the number of nuclear power plants, which in turn would generate massive quantities of radioactive waste and necessitate reprocessing and use of plutonium as a means to reducing such waste.

Having broken off development of reprocessing technology during the administration of President Jimmy Carter, the United States lacks the technology to construct a reprocessing plant, and is seeking Japan's cooperation. Upon visiting the Rokkasho Plant, a U.S. expert praised the plant's non-proliferation measures, and expressed hopes of building a plant that was even better in terms of non-proliferation, economy and safety through international cooperation, and stressed that cooperation from the Rokkasho Plant and Japan were essential in doing so. With the spread of nuclear power, the world will benefit from Japanese technology.

The writer is Research Advisor Emeritus of the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

中村政雄 / 電力中央研究所 名誉研究顧問

2005年 10月 14日







一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan Contributing to the World Through Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Technology