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16 July, 2015

Working Group Begins Look at Nuclear Fuel Cycle Business in Japan

On July 14, the first meeting was held of a special working group under the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy dealing with the improvement of Japan’s nuclear business environment. The group is headed by Prof. Hirotaka Yamauchi of Hitotsubashi University's Graduate School of Commerce and Management.

In advance of the expected increase in competition stemming from the reform of the power system and a decreasing dependency on nuclear power, the working group will consider a funding system that will enable the stable, efficient pursuit of the nuclear fuel cycle business.

At the first meeting, personnel from the Agency for Natural Resource and Energy (ANRE) presented a direction for the nuclear fuel cycle business and related issues, based on the nation’s Strategic Energy Plan and an interim report issued by the advisory committee’s Nuclear Energy Subcommittee at the end of last year.

At present, each nuclear operator in Japan reserves funds for the cost of reprocessing spent fuel generated by nuclear power plants. The funds are paid to Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), the implementing body, based on private-sector contracts among the operators.

As for the business of final disposal of high-level radioactive waste (HLW), the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO) was established as the implementing body. By law, it may not be dissolved. Nuclear operators are required to cover necessary expenses as contributions.

In light of the special nature of the nuclear fuel cycle business and the changing operational environment, including intensified competition following power system reform, there is concern that various issues may emerge related to the implementation of the business.

The group has noted several points to be addressed in that regard, including the division of roles between operators and the central government, and the creation of appropriate facilitating mechanisms.

After the ANRE presentation, several members of the group voiced their opinions. Hiroya Masuda, an advisor to the Nomura Research Institute, and who serves as head of the advisory committee’s Radioactive Wastes Working Group, pointed out the need for a “bird’s-eye view” of the entire nuclear fuel cycle business, in contrast to just focusing on geological disposal. He stressed the need to utilize both central government involvement and private-sector vitality concurrently.

Meanwhile, Vice President Hajimu Yamana of the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation (NDF) spoke from his viewpoint as an engineer directly engaged in the nuclear fuel cycle. Looking back at how the completion of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Facility was repeatedly postponed, he emphasized the importance of making unerring technological judgments.

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