Some 700 Japanese anti-nuclear activists protested April 12 in Rokkasho (Aomori Prefecture, northern Honshu) as French Prime Minister Francois Fillon toured a new nuclear fuel reprocessing facility recently built in partnership between Japan Nuclear Fuel (JNFL) and France’s nuclear giant Areva. The plant is scheduled to begin operations next month, but critics charge that it poses a safety risk and could be vulnerable to an earthquake.
Undaunted, Fillon turned the occasion into a booster session for the Franco-Japanese nuclear partnership, and the nuclear industry in general. “It is important France and Japan are the spokesnations of the reasonable use of nuclear on a global scale,” he told reporters.
He said it would be would be “a political mistake” to refuse emerging economies access to what the French news agency AFP perversely termed (not making clear if its was directly quoting Fillon) “civil nuclear rights.” (As we have stated before: Nuclear development should appropriately be viewed not as a “right”, but as a bad idea—in fact, a violation of the human right to freedom from radiation, and the anti-democratic measures which are the inevitable concomitant of nuclear power.)
“Step by step, by respecting all the security rules, we would like to bring developing nations toward mastery of these technologies,” Fillon added. “It is a very important political trend.” He added that Paris and Tokyo would press for a “common action in favor of civilian nuclear energy” at the July G8 summit in Japan.
Greenpeace called the Rokkasho plant “the biggest and most dangerous obstacle to directing Japan towards a safe and clean energy future.” The statement charged that “Areva is aggressively promoting nuclear power expansion despite the risks, poor value for money and ineffectiveness in combating problems such as climate change.”
A major quake in the region could trigger “an enormous amount of radiation leakage [that] will affect not only local residents here, but also the global environment,” said Koji Asaishi, a lawyer involved in four lawsuits aimed at shutting the plant.
AFP says that a map published by Japan’s Active Fault Research Center does not specify a faultline in Rokkasho, but shows at least seven in Aomori Prefecture. The account recalls last year’s radiation leak at Niigata, the world’s largest nuclear power plant, sparked by an earthquake that killed 14 people. However, the account failed to actually name Niigata, and made th dubious claim that only “tiny amounts” of radiation were leaked. That Niigata plant currently remains shut for inspections.
Japanese trade minister Akira Amari said the Rokkasho plant was essential. “As the head of Japan’s energy policy and a politician who believes in the future of nuclear energy, I feel deeply grateful to the people in Japan and France who have worked for the plant,” he said.
During Fillon’s visit, Areva inked a deal to expand a business alliance with Japanese industrial giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to provide nuclear fuel for reactors. “What was signed confirms the common strategy between France and Japan” for development of civilian nuclear energy, Fillon told reporters.
In recent months, France has signed nuclear cooperation deals with Algeria, Libya and the United Arab Emirates. “If we are unable to find—thanks to science—a means to bring to these inhabitants the energy they need to develop, then we will be forced to prepare for very gloomy days,” Fillon warned. (AFP, April 12)
Protests are planned at the July G8 summit, which will be held on the northern island of Hokkaido. See NO!G8.