National

Trade ministry denies report power companies halted funding for reprocessing of nuclear fuel

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Industry minister Hiroshige Seko has denied a news report that 10 nuclear power plant operators halted funding for the reprocessing of nuclear fuel in fiscal 2016, saying that there is no change in Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling policy and that the utilities are now paying reserve funds to a state-linked organization.

The report by Kyodo News and published on The Japan Times’ website on Sept. 3, alleged that the 10 power companies stopped dispatching funds for the future reprocessing of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel that contains plutonium and uranium. Such a move would affect resource-scarce Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling policy, Kyodo said.

But Seko told a Tuesday news conference that the power firms had merely changed their accounting rules and are now paying the reserve funds to the Nuclear Reprocessing Organization of Japan (NROJ), based on a fuel-funding law enacted in 2016.

Seko said the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry “immediately filed a grave protest” with Kyodo, claiming that its report was “totally contrary to the facts.”

“There has been no (government) policy change before and after the enactment of the law,” Seko told the news conference.

The government has been considering building a plant to reprocess spent MOX fuels somewhere in the country. Kyodo claimed the utilities had halted reserve funds for this envisioned plant.

Separately, the government is currently building a fuel-reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, aimed at extracting plutonium from conventional spent nuclear fuel to produce MOX fuel.

As of the end of June, the NROJ now has reserve funds of totaling ¥2.87 trillion. It collects contributions from power companies based on the amount of fuel they consumed the previous year. Those totaled ¥88.6 billion in 2017.

Teruyoshi Marumoto, an official with the general affairs section of the NROJ, however, declined to reveal the estimated cost for constructing the envisioned MOX reprocessing plant, saying it could affect future negotiations with fuel reprocessing businesses.