Nuclear industry steamrolls on

The government’s Sept. 14 new long-term energy policy of “mobilizing all available policy resources to reach ‘zero operation’ of nuclear power plants in the 2030s” contains various contradictions, including the continuation of efforts toward an operational fuel cycle that makes new nuclear fuel from spent fuel (after extracting plutonium and uranium).

Focus on this cycle likely assumes that today’s nuclear power plants will continue operating. It will also result in the accumulation of surplus plutonium, an ingredient of nuclear weapons.

The 40-year limit to be imposed on the operation of a nuclear power plant under the policy is another contradiction. The day after the policy was announced, trade and industry minister Yukio Edano said that suspension of the construction of three nuclear power plants would be lifted. This means that these plants’ reactors will remain online at least into the 2050s. Mr. Edano’s statement soon had an effect. On Oct. 1, Electric Power Development Co. (J-Power) resumed construction of its Oma nuclear power plant in Oma, Aomori Prefecture.

This is the first case of nuclear plant construction resuming since the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Work on the Oma plant started in May 2008, but was suspended when the massive earthquake hit the Pacific coast areas of the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011.

Given the 40-year operation rule, the resumption of the construction of the Oma plant clearly contradicts the government’s policy of ending nuclear power generation in the 2030s. J-Power President Masayoshi Kitamura made it clear that completion of the Oma plant will be in the middle of 2016 at the earliest, at least 1½ years later than scheduled (November 2014).

The government should put itself on an unambiguous zero nuclear path, as desired by a majority of the public.

Recent developments, including the resumption of the construction of the Oma plant and the Noda Cabinet’s failure to officially endorse the new long-term energy policy, hint at the possibility that the government and the power industry will try to continue and expand nuclear power generation by fait accompli.

After the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the government decided to expand the urgent protective action planning zone in the event of a severe nuclear power plant accident from the traditional 8-to-10-km radius from a nuclear power plant to a 30-km radius.

Hakodate City, within 30 km of the Ohma nuclear power plant, is against the resumption of the plant’s construction and plans to file a lawsuit to stop it. The plant will be the world’s first nuclear power plant that will operate solely using MOX fuel (containing a blend of plutonium and uranium).

Since the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has not yet worked out new, post-Fukushima safety standards for nuclear power plants, it must be asked why J-Power has decided to resume construction now.