U.S. officials and experts have expressed strong reservations about the plan to operate a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori to recover fissionable plutonium while most of the nation’s reactors remain shuttered, a Japan Atomic Energy Commission member said.
“It was an unprecedentedly severe reaction,” Tatsujiro Suzuki, the commission’s vice chairman, said Monday of U.S. officials’ comments during his trip there earlier this month.
“I think this is because the Liberal Democratic Party stands firm to uphold a policy of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, and also because plans to operate the reprocessing plant are moving forward,” Suzuki said.
Arousing U.S. concerns is Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s aim to start full-fledged operations in October at its fuel-reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.
Japan has a large amount of plutonium but prospects for using it remain unclear as almost all of the nation’s reactors sit idled by the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
Because the Rokkasho plant operator must meet new regulations implemented by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, it remains unclear when the plant will be able to begin operations.
Suzuki quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman as saying that if Japan begins reprocessing spent nuclear fuel while its profitability remains unclear, there is a chance that the nation’s international reputation could be significantly damaged.
Countryman was also quoted as saying that Japan’s reprocessing work could affect Iran and other nations with nuclear ambitions.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman was quoted by Suzuki as saying he is greatly concerned about Japan possessing a large inventory of plutonium without plans to use it.
The nation’s 10 power companies operating nuclear power plants possessed a total of about 26.5 tons of fissile plutonium as of the end of last year.
Russia eases food ban
Russia has partially lifted a ban on food imports from eastern Japan that was imposed just after the March 2011 start of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the Japanese government said.
An import ban will remain on processed and unprocessed seafood products from Aomori, Iwate, Miyagi, Yamagata, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba and Niigata.
For food imports other than seafood products from Tokyo, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi, Gunma and Chiba prefectures, Russia replaced a ban with a requirement for government-issued radiation test certificates.