Japan's New Guidelines for the Nuclear
Fuel Cycle and the Use of Plutonium
On August 5, 2003, the Atomic Energy Commission of Japan (AEC)
released a report entitled On the Nuclear Fuel Cycle.
This report presents a broad overview of the nuclear fuel cycle
and was compiled based on several policy discussions at various
review meetings that were held beginning in November 2002 (“Panel
to Discuss the Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle”). At that
time, public trust in nuclear power had been shaken resulting
from disclosures of the inappropriate handling of voluntary inspection
records at a number of nuclear power plants.
AEC Report Principles
The AEC report emphasizes that the proper management of the nuclear
fuel cycle will be instrumental in enhancing the efficiency of resource
utilization and in reducing radiation effects from high-level radioactive
waste. Moreover, it points out that a closed nuclear fuel cycle
and nuclear power generation program is an attractive and effective
path that Japan can justifiably follow in order to enhance energy
security for the country and help mitigate global warming.
JNFL's Rokkasho Reprocessing
The AEC report concludes
that because considerable amounts of time and money are required
to implement a nuclear fuel recycling program and to establish
a technological foundation for its proper management, decisions
on desirable policy and program options should not be postponed.
Additionally, the report concludes that a closed nuclear fuel
cycle should be promoted as the central tenet of the country's
basic nuclear energy policy.
The government is now in the process of formulating a Basic Energy
Plan that will provide guidelines for the nation's energy
supply and demand in the years ahead. This plan is expected to
emphasize the promotion of nuclear power generation and nuclear
Transparency in Plutonium Utilization
Meanwhile, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited's (JNFL's) Rokkasho
spent fuel reprocessing plant is preparing for commercial operation.
This plant will be Japan's first commercial nuclear reprocessing
facility and it will be responsible for separating and recovering
significant amounts of plutonium. Therefore, the industry must aim
to attain further transparency in the utilization of this sensitive
Accordingly, accompanying the report, the Commission has also
decided on Basic Principles for the Utilization of Plutonium,
which requires Japanese electric power companies to annually announce
their plans for the utilization of plutonium – before its
reprocessing – by setting forth the names of the plutonium's
owners, the amount of plutonium in their possession and the purposes
of its utilization. Explanations of plutonium use purposes must
also include information about quantities for utilization, as
well as where, when and for how long the plutonium will be used.
If plans for the utilization of plutonium are likely to be affected
by the progress of the electric utilities' projects for
the consumption of mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) fuel in
thermal reactors, as well as by the operation of the JNFL's
reprocessing plant and other facilities, Japan's electric
utilities and JNFL will be expected to revise their plans as circumstances
The AEC has adhered to the principle that Japan should not possess
“unneeded or surplus plutonium,” and the national
government has been encouraging the disclosure of information
about the uses of plutonium by making public the inventory of
managed plutonium every year. Thus, these recently formulated
basic principles represent the Commission's intention to
boost the transparency of plutonium use and provide further security
in the utilization of this material.
Japan's Safeguards System
From the very first, Japan has utilized nuclear energy only for
peaceful purposes, in accordance with the Atomic Energy Basic Law
of 1955. As a pledge to the international community that Japan will
only use plutonium for solely peaceful purposes, it has been a signatory
country to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons
(NPT) since 1976. Under that treaty, all nuclear materials in Japan
are subject to the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA's)
safeguards and all nuclear facilities in Japan receive IAEA as well
as domestic inspections. In addition, Japan signed the IAEA Additional
Protocol in 1998. These numerous assurances should allay any concerns
about Japan's peaceful utilization of plutonium from the perspective
of nuclear non-proliferation.
With the publication of the AEC guidelines, the Japanese government
thus reaffirms its policy commitment to promote nuclear power
generation and the nuclear fuel cycle. Naturally, gaining the
understanding of local citizens is also essential for assuring
steady nuclear power development. All of the Tokyo Electric Power
Company's seventeen nuclear power units were suspended for
safety checks, but seven of them have resumed operations with
the understanding of local communities.
We in the Japanese electric power industry will continue our
efforts to promote nuclear power generation and to establish an
effective nuclear fuel cycle, based on the important principles
of safety and nuclear non-proliferation.