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2015年7月14日 (火)

核燃料サイクル 政府の責任で軌道に乗せよ

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Get nuclear fuel cycle program on track for government initiative
核燃料サイクル 政府の責任で軌道に乗せよ

The nuclear fuel cycle project — which aims to reuse spent nuclear fuel to generate power — is undoubtedly an important undertaking for Japan, a country that lacks sufficient energy resources.

A solid framework must be constructed to ensure that the plan is carried out.

An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry is poised to establish a working group that will study the future management structure of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), the company at the heart of the project.

One issue of key importance is whether the government should become more deeply involved in the firm’s operations.

Japan’s nuclear energy programs have been implemented on a “government-led, privately operated” basis, whereby utilities address the task of materializing specific projects based on government policy.

The JNFL has been overseeing the planned reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel, in which uranium and plutonium will be recovered to produce a new type of nuclear fuel. In terms of personnel and funding, the company has been fully supported by electric power companies.

But the current situation is serious. Though the construction of the firm’s spent nuclear fuel reprocessing complex in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, is now in its final stages, the project has fallen nearly 20 years behind schedule.

Once the Nuclear Regulation Authority completes its evaluation of the Rokkasho project, the start of the reprocessing plant’s operations will be in sight. Now is a critical time for getting the envisioned nuclear fuel cycle program on track. The government must act responsibly in tackling the funding and managerial challenges facing the JNFL.

Utilities must pull own weight

The idea of converting the JNFL into a government-authorized corporation has been circulating within the government. The proposed transformation, which is aimed mainly at strengthening the government’s supervisory power, would allow the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry to have a say in the appointment of the corporation’s executives and related matters.

However, some believe that the move could deprive its operations of flexibility. Concerns are also being voiced in Aomori Prefecture, which is hosting the facility, that the transformation plan could have an adverse impact on employment and the regional economy by reducing the chances of local residents being hired.

The ministry panel’s working group of experts must hold in-depth discussions on the pros and cons of giving the JNFL the status of a government-authorized entity.

The prolongation of the NRA’s safety screening process has left every utility in difficulty. If the retail electricity market is fully liberalized next spring as scheduled, industry competition is certain to intensify, making the business climate even more stringent. The negative repercussions of liberalization could even affect the JNFL, which has been heavily dependent on power firms for its own revenues.

The estimated total cost of building the reprocessing complex is about ¥11 trillion. To finance its construction, the JNFL plans to have the reprocessing plant operate for 40 years.

Should the business of the JNFL come to a standstill, it would likely become difficult to continue the nuclear fuel cycle program. In such an event, there would be nowhere to dispose of spent nuclear fuel, which would thereby jeopardize the stable operations of nuclear power plants.

To establish a sustainable nuclear fuel cycle, it is imperative that each utility uphold its share of the burden in backing the JNFL, even after the electricity market is fully liberalized.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 12, 2015)


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