I first came across Rokkasho in a book by Ellen Schattschneider titled Immortal Wishes: Labor and Transcendence on a Japanese Sacred Mountain (pages 12-13).
The soon-to-be-abolished Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency gave the OK on June 26 for work to continue on the construction of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, which had already been under way.
Critics say the approval was rushed by the agency in order for the project to reach completion, despite a growing public outcry against nuclear power generation.
The government is discussing the nuclear fuel cycle, including a review of the program.
The plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel reprocessing plant would constitute the core of the nuclear fuel cycle. New nuclear fuel would be produced from plutonium extracted from spent fuel at nuclear plants.
NISA approved the construction of facilities to solidify powdery MOX fuel and other related operations. The approval means contractors can proceed with the design and building of facilities to process, check and store nuclear fuel.
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which filed for the approval, is planning to complete the MOX fuel plant in March 2016.
“We will proceed with the work according to schedule,” it said.
The policy of the nuclear fuel cycle will be discussed by the government’s Energy and Environment Council, comprising Cabinet ministers with relevant portfolios, this summer. The discussions will include the continuation or abolition of the program. The council could conclude that there will be no need for the MOX plant.
On June 20, it was decided that the NISA will be abolished as legislation has been passed to establish a new nuclear regulatory commission. But NISA gave permission for the construction of facilities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle in February and March before the latest approval by the lame duck agency.
“The last-minute approval is intolerable amid discussions for reviewing the program,” said Hideyuki Ban, a member of the New Nuclear Policy Planning Council of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission and co-director of the Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.
NISA denied that it rushed the decision.
“It’s not true that we issued the permission with the schedule (of NISA’s abolition) in mind,” said an official at NISA’s nuclear fuel cycle regulation division. “We confirmed compliance with standards from a technological standpoint. There is no problem because we strictly examined the application.”
Meanwhile, the president of Electric Power Development Co. on June 26 showed a willingness to proceed with the construction of the nuclear plant in the northeastern town of Oma, in the same prefecture.
“We hope to proceed with the construction in light of new nuclear-safety understandings to prevent accidents from occurring,” Masayoshi Kitamura said at his company’s general shareholders’ meeting in Tokyo.
The Oma plant had been under construction, but work was halted after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.
Momentum for an early resumption is increasing in local municipalities due to expectations for economic effects.
Many residents of Hakodate, Hokkaido, located on the other side of the Tsugaru Strait, want the construction freeze to continue.
But Kitamura said that is unlikely.
“We have never discussed a withdrawal as an option (at board meetings and on other occasions),” he said.