Aomori governor wants Japan’s spent nuclear fuel plan to continue

Kyodo

Aomori Gov. Shingo Mimura urged the central government Wednesday to maintain the long-standing plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, saying the state should not act in a manner that would undermine years of cooperation with his prefecture over the issue.

The current policy aims to reprocess all spent nuclear fuel and reuse the extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel. But if the government decides to end atomic power, there would be no point in pursuing fuel-recycling.

The government is on the verge of announcing a new energy mix vis-a-vis nuclear power in consideration of the triple-meltdown crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant, proposing three options for the level of reliance on such energy by 2030: zero percent, 15 percent and 20 to 25 percent — compared with 26 percent in 2010.

In meetings with Mimura, Cabinet ministers have agreed to respect the trust Aomori established with the state to accept facilities to reprocess nuclear fuel and store radioactive waste, regardless of what energy goals the government pursues in light of the Fukushima disaster.

In a request handed to the ministers, Mimura said, “We ask the government to make clear its view about the significance of the nuclear fuel-cycle policy, based on the results of promoting it for more than 30 years.”

The prefecture has cooperated because ministers have maintained in the past that the fuel-cycle policy is a “steadfast national strategy” for resource-poor Japan, the governor said, adding Aomori agreed to accept spent nuclear fuel from atomic plants nationwide with the understanding that it will be reprocessed.

National policy minister Motohisa Furukawa said he takes Mimura’s request “sincerely” and hopes to maintain a relationship of trust with Aomori.

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano vowed to stand by the government’s promise of not making Aomori the final nuclear waste resting site no matter what the government concludes regarding future energy policy.

The existing fuel-cycle policy is considered in jeopardy due to various factors, including the repeated glitches at the fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori village of Rokkasho that have prevented the start of full-scale operations nearly 20 years since its construction started. Construction costs for the facility have ballooned to more than ¥2 trillion. Add to that the widespread national public opposition to the continued use of nuclear power and to accepting, in anyone’s backyard, any atomic waste for final disposal.