• Kyodo News


Facility utilization rates were stagnant at about 60 percent at the nation’s nuclear plants in fiscal 2007, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission said in an annual white paper released Tuesday.

Nuclear energy has failed to live up to society’s expectations, the report says, citing the suspension of the trial operation of a spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

The paper terms 2008 as the year when nuclear power was internationally recognized as an effective energy source in stemming global warming.

But utilization rates at Japan’s atomic plants stood at only 60.7 percent in fiscal 2007 due not only to the suspension of the Rokkasho plant, but also to a long-term halt at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture due to a powerful earthquake.

Nuclear plants should operate efficiently and safely in terms of quake resistance, said the report, which was compiled by the Cabinet Office.

Trial operations at the Rokkasho plant were recently extended by another half year to August due to a series of glitches involving an experiment to vitrify high-level radioactive liquid waste. The trial period has been extended multiple times since March 2006.

Noting various problems are likely to occur at the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, the paper urges its operator to overcome such problems.

The report says nuclear plant operators are having difficulty finding locations where they can dispose of highly radioactive waste material. It calls for incentives to be provided to municipalities to encourage them to consider accepting such substances.

The paper also proposes reorganizing the structure of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, an independent administrative entity, and strengthening its technological foundation for an early resumption of the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture.

Monju began generating power in August 1995. But it was shut down due to a fire that December caused by a sodium coolant leak.

Its restart has been postponed repeatedly due to a delay in repairs. It is a next-generation reactor that generates more plutonium for power generation than it consumes.

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