Power Line
The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan Vol.25
July 2005

Japan's Commitment to the Closed Nuclear Fuel Cycle

On May 14, 2004, the General Policy Committee of the Federation of Electric Power Companies, which comprises the presidents of these companies, reaffirmed and unanimously endorsed the power industry's steadfast commitment to the startup and operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.

Japan has limited energy resources and can supply only four percent of its total energy requirements indigenously. Also, because Japan is an island nation, it is extremely difficult to import energy via power lines or gas pipelines. For this reason, in order to secure a stable energy supply, Japan has diversified its energy supply sources since the oil crises of the 1970s, and nuclear power has long been regarded as the most promising means of delivering it.

The closed nuclear fuel cycle (see illustration, below) is particularly advantageous. Once spent fuel is reprocessed, unburned uranium and plutonium are extracted again for fuel use. The closed nuclear fuel cycle has been promoted as a national energy policy since the beginning of the development of nuclear power in the 1950s.

The Closed Nuclear Fuel Cycle

With regard to energy security, it is also important to consider Asia's energy security situation as a whole, especially in light of China as a major energy consumer. Clearly, demands for energy growth in the region will have an increasingly greater impact on Japan's overall energy security. Owing to its recent remarkable economic growth, China's demand for fossil fuels, including oil and gas, is expected to increase rapidly. Furthermore, China's demand for uranium is also expected to grow, following the widespread introduction of nuclear power generation in that country. Under these circumstances, the issue of obtaining a long-term stable energy supply will become even more important and challenging for Japan.

The promotion of the closed nuclear fuel cycle is defined in the Atomic Energy Commission's (AEC's) Long-Term Program for Research, Development and Utilization of Nuclear Energy, which establishes the basis for Japan's national nuclear policy. The closed-fuel cycle policy has been reaffirmed through each of eight revisions of the Long-Term Program, which incorporates extensive input from a broad social spectrum.

The closed-fuel cycle policy was also prominently incorporated into the basic energy plan agreed upon by the Cabinet in October 2003. This energy plan was based on the Basic Law on Energy Policy Making, enacted in June 2002 as Japan's first comprehensive law providing a framework upon which the nation can develop long-term energy policy strategies. The energy plan states clearly that the country should promote nuclear power generation, including the closed nuclear fuel cycle, as a key part of its energy policy.

The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) is expected to play a pivotal role in Japan's domestic nuclear fuel cycle, and it is now preparing for startup in 2006. The facility for receiving and storing spent fuel suffered a setback when leakage from a spent fuel pool occurred because of improper welding procedures. JNFL made a thorough check of the entire reprocessing facility, which was confirmed by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. In June, with the consent of the local government, the facility restarted the reception of spent fuel.

Since its inception, Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy has been promoted with a long-term point of view. In general, a technology can only be considered mature after it has been tested in the field. In fact, it will take some time to fully establish Japan's fuel cycle technology. It was therefore indicated in the AEC's August 2003 report, "On the Nuclear Fuel Cycle," that endorsement of the fuel cycle policy should be implemented steadily. This policy is crucial to the country's future, and it is vital to progressively push forward operations of the nearly completed Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in order to carry out the planned national nuclear fuel cycle.

Back-end operations and reprocessing constitute about twenty percent and ten percent, respectively, of the total cost of nuclear power generation. The unit price of power generation compares favorably with that of alternative power, even if the nuclear fuel cycle cost is included in the total cost.

In conclusion, based on the aforementioned reasons, it is imperative to establish the closed fuel cycle for our resource-poor country and, with the vital goal of ensuring energy security, we remain determined to establish this country's domestic nuclear fuel cycle.

Japan's Peaceful Nuclear Activities Authorized

As a result of Japan's acceptance of an international nuclear inspection regime of comprehensive safeguards based on the Additional Protocol, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has declared in June, 2004 that Japan's nuclear program is completely for peaceful purposes only. More effective safeguards known as integrated safeguards will now be implemented in Japan, leading to fewer future inspections in the future. For the complete official statement, please visit IAEA's web site at