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Saturday, April 2, 2005

Nuclear foes want Rokkasho, Monju on U.N. nonproliferation agenda


Staff writer

KYOTO -- Japanese and international antinuclear groups plan to use an upcoming United Nations conference on nuclear nonproliferation to push for a moratorium on the Rokkasho atomic fuel reprocessing plant and the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor.

"Given the growing stockpiles of plutonium and weapons-usable nuclear fuel around the world, it makes no sense whatsoever for Japan to advocate reprocessing at Rokkasho, which enriches uranium fuel, or the restart of the Monju fast-breeder reactor. These two plants will add to the danger of nuclear proliferation," said Tom Clements of Greenpeace International in Washington at a recent gathering of antinuclear activists in Kyoto.

As of March 2004, Japan had around 45 tons of plutonium in storage, including nearly 5.5 tons at nuclear plants and related facilities, and another 39 tons at overseas reprocessing plants -- mainly in England and France.

In their campaign to put a stop to both plants, Clements and other members of Greenpeace, along with Aileen Mioko Smith of Green Action Kyoto and representatives of Tokyo-based Citizens' Nuclear Information Center, plan to be in New York during the May 2-27 U.N. nonproliferation conference.

Their plan is to lobby member countries and hold public seminars on Rokkasho and Monju in a bid to get the issue put on the U.N. meeting's agenda.

Clements pointed out that, in recent weeks, comments from the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations have indicated that both might like to see both Rokkasho and Monju halted.

While not mentioning specific countries, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei in early February called for a five-year moratorium on additional facilities for uranium enrichment and plutonium separation.

"There is no compelling reason to build more of these facilities. The nuclear industry has more than enough capacity to fuel its power plants and research facilities," ElBaradei said.

Then, on March 21, a similar recommendation was made in the secretary general's report to the General Assembly.

"While the access of nonnuclear weapon states to the benefits of nuclear technology should not be curtailed, we should focus on creating incentives for states to voluntarily forgo the development of domestic uranium enrichment and plutonium separation facilities, while guaranteeing their supply of the fuel necessary to develop peaceful uses," the report says.

Japan claims the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and Monju remain an integral part of the nation's atomic energy program. But commercial operation of the Rokkasho plant, due to have started in summer 2006, was again postponed to May 2007 -- the eighth time its startup has been postponed.

"Costs for the Rokkasho plant are now at over 2 trillion yen, making it arguably the most expensive facility in modern world history. Perhaps only the ancient Egyptian pyramids cost more," Clements said.

The Fukui governor has given his approval to the remodeling of Monju necessary for its restart. The reactor has been idle since a December 1995 sodium leak accident.

However, the Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court ruled in early 2003 that the government's 1983 approval of the Monju project was invalid. The state appealed to the Supreme Court, which is expected to hand down its decision within a few months.

Clements noted that, by pushing ahead with Monju, Japan is very much going against international trends.

"Breeder reactors in most countries have failed. The breeder-reactor program in the United States is completely dead," he said.

Over the past few years, advocates of nuclear power in some countries, including Japan, have used the Kyoto Protocol, which sets targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, as a pretext for building atomic plants, as well as nuclear fuel reprocessing plants. Doing so, they claim, will reduce both the world's dependence on fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.

But Clements and Greenpeace wonder who is going to pay for the construction of new plants.

"Nuclear power plants are extremely expensive to build, and there is the problem of disposal of radioactive waste. I don't see construction of new plants taking place without a huge flow of investment, and the will of most countries to invest tax money in nuclear power plants doesn't seem to be there," he said.



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