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Thursday, May 31, 2012

EDITORIAL

AEC's dubious behavior

It has surfaced that the Cabinet Offices's Atomic Energy Commission, in the course of its review of Japan's nuclear fuel cycle policy, has held a series of closed-door study meetings attended by insiders in the nation's nuclear power establishment. These meetings were separate from the official meetings held by the commission's subcommittee that is dealing with the issue.

It has also come to light that a report submitted to a May 8 meeting of the subcommittee by the commission had been changed to reflect the views supported by the nuclear power establishment. If true, the commission's act has completely destroyed any semblance of neutrality and transparency as well as further deepened distrust in the nation's nuclear policy.

It is also known that a sizable number of workers working in the commission's secretariat are on loan from utility companies, nuclear reactor makers and a pro-power industry think. The commission needs a complete overhaul.

Key components of Japan's nuclear fuel cycle project are the Monju fast-breeder reactor to produce more plutonium than it consumes — which has been inoperative for many years due to accidents — and a plant to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. Startup of this operation has been put off due to a series of mishaps.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura on May 25 admitted that the AEC held 23 closed-door meetings from November 2011 to April 2012 and that AEC Chairman Shunsuke Kondo attended the first four meetings. AEC Acting Chairman Tatsujiro Suzuki, head of the subcommittee on the nuclear fuel cycle issue, is known to have attended the April 24 meeting. Among the participants in the closed meetings were officials from the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan; the trade and industry ministry's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy; Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., owner of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant; and the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, owner of the Monju fast-breeder reactor.

The draft of a subcommittee's report included three options: reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel for plutonium extraction — the policy so far pushed by Japan — burying all spent nuclear fuel underground, and a combination of reprocessing and burying.

It said that, in terms of total cost, burying all spent nuclear fuel is advantageous. But a new draft submitted to the subcommittee meeting May 8 used a diluted expression. It said there is the strong possibility that burying all spent nuclear fuel will be most advantageous (compared with the continuation of the policy of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel).

According to participants in the closed meetings, officials from the power industry strongly called for the continuation of the current policy. The closed meeting spent more time than the total of 40 hours taken up by the subcommittee's meetings.

Mr. Fujimura denied that the draft was changed to reflect the opinions of the power industry. But who will believe his explanation? At least the AEC should make public detailed reports on the closed meetings, and Mr. Kondo should step down as the first step toward a complete overhaul of the AEC.



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