Meeting in Tokyo on June 7, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and French President Francois Hollande agreed to cooperate on the development of a nuclear fuel cycle and the export of nuclear power technology. Mr. Abe’s decision to push forward with nuclear power technology is deplorable given the damage caused by the ongoing crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Mr. Abe and Mr. Hollande also agreed to launch talks between their countries’ foreign and defense ministers on the joint development of defense equipment. This decision, which could lead to use of weapons jointly developed by Japan and France in military conflicts, shows that Mr. Abe has little respect for the Constitution’s no-war principle.
Mr. Abe’s decision to move forward with the development of nuclear power technology represents his cynical disregard for the victims of the Fukushima nuclear crisis. Some 150,000 Fukushima residents still cannot return home due to radioactive contamination and many others live in fear of exposure to radiation released by the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
In May, Mr. Abe signed agreements with the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to enable the export of Japanese nuclear technology to them. At a joint news conference with Mr. Hollande, he said, “Japan will respond to expectations about Japan’s nuclear power technology from the viewpoint of enhancing the world’s safety level (in nuclear power generation).” If the prime minister seriously considered the ramifications of the Fukushima disaster, he could not have made such a statement.
The timing of the prime minister’s misguided plan could not have been worse. On June 7, Southern California Edison announced that it will permanently shutter two reactors built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries at its San Onofre nuclear power station after discovering that their steam generators have dangerous defects that could cause a nuclear accident.
In an attempt to resurrect Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle endeavor, Mr. Abe and Mr. Hollande have agreed to jointly develop a new type of fast reactor based on the same type of concept used in Japan’ Monju reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, the core component of Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle project. They also agreed to cooperate on starting “the safe and stable operation” of the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, another important component of the project.
But the project, for which Japan has spent nearly ¥10 trillion, is almost bankrupt. The Monju reactor has been inoperative for most of the past 19 years while Rokkasho reprocessing plant’s full operation has been postponed 19 times due to a series of problems. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of Monju, failed to inspect nearly 10,000 reactor components in and after 2010, and the Nuclear Regulation Authority ordered the JAEA not to prepare to restart the trouble-plagued Monju until it improves its safety management.
Mr. Abe should stop promoting nuclear energy. Even if the Rokkasho plant becomes fully operative, the resulting plutonium production will increase the danger of nuclear proliferation. If Japan and France wish to cooperate on nuclear energy, they should focus their efforts on cleaning up the areas contaminated by the Fukushima disaster and decommissioning the damaged reactors.