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2011年12月 6日 (火)



(Mainichi Japan) December 5, 2011
Plutonium brings no real chance of prosperity

Some readers appear to wonder why I recently write only about nuclear power generation in this column. I do so because I believe that it is a crucial issue that will determine the fate of Japan as well as the whole world.

There have recently been various news reports that offer valuable insight into the future of nuclear power generation.

The Dec. 2 morning edition of the Mainichi Shimbun ran an article reporting that in 2002, the then administrative vice minister of economy, trade and industry and the chairman and president of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) were nearing an agreement to withdraw from a nuclear fuel recycling project.

Nuclear fuel recycling refers to a process of treating spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power stations with chemicals and extracting reusable uranium and plutonium from it.

This project has so far been unsuccessful and there are no prospects that the project will work.

It was only natural that the government regulator and the power supplier were negotiating a withdrawal from the project.

The negotiations came to nothing after top executives of TEPCO were forced to resign over the utility's cover-up of a series of technical problems. Nevertheless, the Mainichi report indicates that a change in Japan's nuclear power policy is not a pipe dream.

Furthermore, the Mainichi evening edition of the same day (the morning edition the following day in some areas) reported that the United Kingdom is planning to dispose of some of its surplus plutonium, which it had accumulated as a result of nuclear fuel reprocessing, in an underground repository. This news is of greater significance.

Plutonium is generated as a result of burning uranium in nuclear reactors.

One gram of the substance has energy equal to that in 1 kiloliter of oil.

It can be used as a material for both atomic bombs and fuel for nuclear reactors.
The U.K. has steadily accumulated plutonium, but failed to develop fast-breeder nuclear reactors, which had been viewed as the core of the peaceful use of such a substance.

The U.K. then attempted to develop technology for the use of plutonium-uranium MOX fuel in thermal reactors at nuclear power stations, a project known in Japan as "pluthermal." However, the country has been unsuccessful in producing such fuel. The same is true with Japan.

Areva SA, a nuclear technology company in France, is now manufacturing plutonium-uranium MOX fuel, but questions remain as to its quality.

The U.K. ended up being the world's largest holder of surplus plutonium.

The U.K. faced a major challenge in dealing with a massive amount of plutonium, which needs to be stored safely.  イギリスは困った。プルトニウムは厳重に保管しなければならない。

The storage of plutonium costs a huge amount of money, but the U.K. can no longer afford to pay for this.

The U.K. needs to prevent such a substance from falling into the hands of terrorists.

The country has consequently decided to bury part of its plutonium in an underground repository that is scheduled to begin operations in 2040.

Even if the U.K. says it will bury only "part" of its surplus plutonium, its amount is enough to produce hundreds of atomic bombs.

The amount of surplus plutonium that needs to be buried could increase as there is no prospect that the U.K. will be successful in developing technology to use plutonium-uranium MOX fuel in thermal reactors.

Moreover, the U.K. will abandon its project to reprocess spent nuclear fuel over the next decade.

Behind the decision is the growing awareness that plutonium offers no positives, while also being a terrible nuisance.

This is the essence of the story written by Haruyuki Aikawa, a Mainichi correspondent in London.

The U.K. has already abandoned developing fast-breeder nuclear reactors, and is set to give up nuclear fuel reprocessing as well.

Moreover, its planned construction of a facility to dispose of radioactive waste including plutonium is likely to materialize even though it is still at a planning phase.

In contrast, there are no prospects that Japan can build a disposal facility.

However, for Japan to call for operations at the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in Fukui Prefecture and the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho to be carried out as planned, would be like putting the cart before the horse as it appears the country is incapable of building a disposal facility.

Plutonium is directly related to security issues.

The U.K. possesses nuclear weapons but Japan does not. One may wonder whether Japan's independence will be threatened if it abandons nuclear fuel recycling and loses its ability to produce plutonium.

Even though it is an important point of contention the issue should not be used as a reason to underestimate the harm of plutonium.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano who is in charge of energy policy, Goshi Hosono, state minister for handling the nuclear crisis, and Yoshito Sengoku, second-in-command in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's Policy Research Committee, have been hearing the views of experts on the issue.

It is not enough for the government to talk only about the dream of "prosperity" built on dependence on nuclear power. Japan's ability to overcome the mess that follows such prosperity is now being tested.

(By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
毎日新聞 2011年12月5日 東京朝刊


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