Nuclear Power Program
Japan lacks significant domestic sources of energy except coal and must import substantial amounts of crude oil, natural gas, and other energy resources, including uranium. Japan's nuclear output nearly doubled between 1985 and 1996, as Japan attempted to move away from dependence on oil following the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The Japanese Government is committed to nuclear power development, but several accidents in recent years have aroused public concern. During the past few years, public opposition to Japan's nuclear power program has increased in reaction to a series of accidents at Japanese nuclear plants, including a March 1997 fire and explosion at the Tokai-mura reprocessing plant. Other problems for Japan's nuclear power program have included rising costs of nuclear reactors and fuel, the huge investments necessary for fuel enrichment and reprocessing plants, several reactor failures, and the question of nuclear waste disposal. Regardless, Japan plans to increase the proportion of electricity generated from nuclear to 42% by 2010. Japan ranks third worldwide in installed nuclear capacity, behind the United States and France.
Enactment of the Atomic Energy Law (1955) introduced the promotion of atomic energy development and utilization toward peaceful objectives in compliance with the three basic principles of Democratic Management, Voluntary Action, and Open Information. Inauguration of the Atomic Energy Commission (1956) established an advisory board for the Prime Minister on matters regarding promotion of atomic energy development and utilization. Long-term planning for atomic power development began in 1956. Today, it is the basic program for the nation on nuclear power development and utilization. The plan is revised and updated every five years. The Ministry of International Trade and Industry was reorganized in 1966 to accommodate its increasing workload. This change provided additional rules and regulations for the introduction of commercial light water reactors in Japan after 1966.
In 1974, three basic laws for the promotion of electric power development were made into law; namely, the "Law for the Adjustment of Areas Adjacent to Power Generating Facilities", the "Electric Power Development Promotion Tax Law", and the "Special Account Law for Electric Power Promotion". These laws also advanced the siting of nuclear power stations. In 1978, the Nuclear Safety Commission was formed as a separate entity from the Atomic Energy Commission. Safety assurance measures were enhanced in 1980 to reflect the lessons learned from the TMI-2 Accident (1979) and, later, the Chernobyl No. 4 Accident in 1986.
The overall appraisal of the Vision of Nuclear Power in 1986 provided long-range prospects of energy availability and electric power requirements through 2030, and a programme for enhancement of safety called "Safety 21", which further reinforced safety assurance measures. In 1990, Japan revised its supply targets to include alternative energy sources to mitigate its growing demand for oil and its part in the greenhouse effect on the Earth.
At the end of 2000, Japan's total installed capacity of nuclear power plants was 45,082 MW. The total installed capability of nuclear power plants under construction and in the plan are 3,996 Mwe (4 plants) and 7,164 Mwe (6 plants) respectively.
To enhance its energy security, the government advocates uranium and plutonium recovery through reprocessing of spent fuel. Plutonium constitutes about 1% of the weight of spent reactor fuel. The Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC) operates a reprocessing plant with an annual capacity of 90 tons but a larger reprocessing plant, Rokkasho-Mura, with a capacity of 800 tons per year, planned for 2003, is under construction. Reprocessing is expensive and costs can quickly rise with new safety requirements and the development of new technologies. Estimated in 1993 to cost about $8 billion, a more recent estimate for Rokkasho-Mura places the total at $15 billion. Japan also is interested in recycling recovered plutonium. In 1999, Japan began, in two prefectures, a controversial mixed-oxide utilization plan, which involves burning a highly toxic mix of plutonium and uranium on a commercial scale.
With a large store of plutonium, Japan mainly relies on Britain and France to recover plutonium from nuclear waste. Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited (PNTL) was set up in 1975 as a subsidiary company of BNFL [British Nuclear Fuels PLC]. It has shareholders from the UK, Japan and France. PNTL transports nuclear materials by sea between Japan and Europe. PNTL has five purpose-built ships. The five ships, along with BNFL's European Shearwater, are all managed by BNFL. The purpose-built ships that make up the PNTL fleet are classified as the highest safety category of the International Maritime Organisation, and have numerous safety features which is why over the last three decades they have securely and safely sailed over four and a half million miles. The recycling plants at La Hague and Sellafield turn the reusable uranium and plutonium into new fuel, called Mixed Oxide (MOX). The first transport of MOX fuel from Europe to Japan was completed successfully in 1999. Some people question whether transporting nuclear materials is a good idea and say it should not be done.
Tokyo pledged in 1991 that it would adhere to the principle of not retaining surplus plutonium. Since 1994, the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) has published annual inventories of separated plutonium. As of December 1995, the total inventory of separated plutonium managed by Japan was 16.1 tons, with 4.7 tons in Japan and 11.4 tons in Europe.
According to figures published by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, by the end of 2001 Japan owned 38 tons of separated reactor-grade plutonium (RGPu), with about six tons stored in Japan and the rest in France and the UK. The amount stored in Japan increased by 400 kilograms during 2001 as a result of reprocessing at the Tokai facility of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Development Institute.
By 2003 Japan owned more plutonium than in the United States nuclear arsenal. Japan has a large nuclear power program. In 2003 Japan owned 38 tons of plutonium, 5 tons located in the country and 33 tons at its European processors. That is enough for 7,000 nuclear weapons. Japan is also accelerating its production of plutonium. By 2010, the amount of plutonium being stockpiled in Europe will have mounted to 45 tons.
Japan is seeking to reduce its reliance on foreign uranium by recycling nuclear fuel that will make its plutonium stockpile grow even larger. Once the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant comes online in 2005, Japan will be able to produce 100 tons of plutonium by 2015. North Korea complained in public about 206 kilograms of missing plutonium from Japan's Tokai-mura facility.
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