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◆[Wikikleaks] NUCLEAR ENERGY POLITICS IN WESTERN JAPAN: KYUSHU ELECTRIC’S

5月 12, 2011

Viewing cable 06FUKUOKA9, NUCLEAR ENERGY POLITICS IN WESTERN JAPAN: KYUSHU ELECTRIC’S

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06FUKUOKA9 2006-02-09 05:42 2011-05-07 05:00 UNCLASSIFIED Consulate Fukuoka

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RR RUEHFK RUEHKSO RUEHNAG RUEHNH
DE RUEHFK #0009/01 0400542
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
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FM AMCONSUL FUKUOKA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0162
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 0168
INFO RUEHKSO/AMCONSUL SAPPORO 0065
RUEHNAG/AMCONSUL NAGOYA 0064
RUEHOK/AMCONSUL OSAKA KOBE 0073
RUEHNH/AMCONSUL NAHA 0067
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHDC
RUEHFK/AMCONSUL FUKUOKA 0180

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 FUKUOKA 000009

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ENRG EMIN ECON SENV SOCI PGOV TRGY JA
SUBJECT: NUCLEAR ENERGY POLITICS IN WESTERN JAPAN: KYUSHU ELECTRIC’S
PLUTHERMAL PROJECT

Sensitive but Unclassified – Not for Internet Distribution.

SUMMARY

¶1. (SBU) With Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa’s declaration
February 7 that he believes pluthermal (plutonium-thermal)
technology is safe, Kyushu Electric Power Co. (Kyuden) is close
to securing final approval from local officials to initiate
pluthermal power generation at its Genkai No. 3 Reactor in Saga
Prefecture. Kyuden would be the first Japanese utility to
implement such a project, in which recycled plutonium-uranium
(MOX) fuel is burned in a light-water reactor. The company has
held a long series of explanatory meetings for area residents to
emphasize the need for and safety of pluthermal technology.
Still, alleviating local anxieties has proven tougher than
anticipated. Kyuden’s experience underscores the continued
unease many Japanese have toward nuclear power, and illustrates
the evolving nature of relations between central government and
local authorities in today’s Japan. End summary.

FINAL PROJECT APPROVAL LIKELY AS EARLY AS MARCH

¶2. (U) On February 7, 2006 Saga Governor Yasushi Furukawa told
reporters at a news conference that, after careful consideration
of central government safety measures and Saga prefecture’s own
research, he had concluded that a proposed pluthermal project at
Kyuden’s Genkai No. 3 nuclear power plant is safe. While the
project must still be endorsed by the Genkai Town Council and
the Saga Prefectural Assembly, the governor’s announcement
provides a critical boost to Kyuden’s hopes of securing final
approval as early as March. Kyuden needs to begin procurement
and facilities preparations very soon if it is to meet its goal
of initiating pluthermal power generation by JFY 2010.

WASTE DISPOSAL, ENERGY SECURITY CONCERNS ARE DRIVERS

¶3. (U) Plutonium-thermal (“”pluthermal””) technology is not new.
Used in Europe for years, it consists of extracting waste
plutonium from spent fuel rods and combining it with uranium to
form new fuel, which can be burned in conventional light-water
reactors. Considerations over nuclear waste disposal and the
greater strategic concerns about energy security have recently
spurred Japanese interest in pluthermal technology. Since
operations at Japan’s prototype “”Monju”” fast-breeder reactor in
Fukui Prefecture were put on hold following a December 1995
accident, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI)
has instead been pushing pluthermal technology as part of its
“”nuclear fuel cycle”” strategy. METI aims to effectively reuse
fuels that are otherwise discarded, thus slowing the growth of
Japan’s nuclear waste stockpile.

¶4. (SBU) Compared to uranium, pluthermal MOX fuel is much more
expensive due to processing costs. However, Kyuden contends
that the technology is cost effective when long-term savings
from reduced waste storage and potential environmental harm are
factored in. National energy security is also a consideration.
With global demand for uranium now outstripping production and a
real possibility that world stockpiles may become depleted, the
GOJ and regional utilities are eager to reduce dependence on
imported uranium fuel. This is particularly true for Kyuden,
which generates a higher percentage of electricity from nuclear
power than any other utility in Japan (45% versus 30% on
average).

¶5. (U) While Kyuden is closest to actual implementation, Tokyo
Electric Power (TEPCO) and Kansai Electric Power (KEPCO) also
have prior METI approval for pluthermal projects, and
applications from other utilities are pending. Meanwhile, in
January 2006 eleven power companies, including power
wholesalers, announced long-term plans to burn as much as 6.5
tons of reprocessed plutonium annually in 16-18 nuclear power
plants across Japan beginning in JFY 2012, following the GOJ’s
basic policy outline for expansion of pluthermal technology.

DESPITE ASSURANCES, COST AND SAFETY CONCERNS PERSIST

¶6. (U) METI approved Kyuden’s pluthermal proposal in September
2005, certifying that it met GOJ safety requirements. To
proceed, Kyuden must get final approval from communities in
proximity to the Genkai plant and from Saga Prefecture. Since
first announcing the project in 2004, Kyuden has held over 200
explanatory meetings for area residents. The company, which

FUKUOKA 00000009 002 OF 003

operates six nuclear reactors in Kyushu (four at the Genkai
site), has emphasized its exemplary 30-year safety record in
nuclear power generation.

¶7. (U) At the insistence of Saga Prefecture, METI sponsored its
own public symposium in October 2005, inviting nuclear power
specialists to discuss the “”necessity”” and “”safety”” of
pluthermal technology. However, the conference did not succeed
in fully allaying concerns about the process. Pro-pluthermal
experts claimed that plutonium recycling would reduce enriched
uranium use by 15-20%. Their opponents insisted that only one
percent of plutonium could be extracted from spent fuel, and
noted that the price of imported MOX fuel is currently about
four times that of uranium. Skeptics point to a March 2004
controversy in which the Natural Resources and Energy Agency,
fearful of derailing the country’s nuclear recycling goals,
attempted to cover up a report showing that the cost of
reprocessing nuclear fuel is two to four times higher than
storing it in waste facilities.

¶8. (U) While the October symposium did not fully examine safety
concerns about pluthermal technology, experts are split on the
issue. Opponents argued that MOX fuel is inherently unstable
and that the reprocessed rods are prone to breakage, thereby
increasing the likelihood of accidents. They also tried to make
the political case that because plutonium can be employed in
nuclear weapons, its greater use in nuclear power generation may
facilitate any future GOJ efforts to develop a domestic nuclear
weapons capability. Proponents dismissed these fears as highly
exaggerated. They countered that the “”plutonium use leads to
nuclear weapons”” notion is too simplistic, adding that
pluthermal recycling actually degrades plutonium to less than
weapons grade.

¶9. (SBU) Recognizing the continued public uncertainty, Saga
Governor Yasushi Furukawa directed the prefecture to sponsor its
own forum on pluthermal safety issues.
Following that symposium in December, the governor said the
safety and necessity of the project had been thoroughly
discussed, setting the stage for his February 7 announcement.
Saga prefectural officials appear generally satisfied with
Kyuden’s plan from a safety standpoint, and tell post they have
a good, longstanding relationship of mutual trust with the
utility. On the other hand, the officials are much less
charitable about the central government’s handling of the issue.
For instance, Governor Furukawa has openly complained that, for
a policy the GOJ claims is in the national interest, Tokyo has
done little beyond asking local jurisdictions for their
cooperation. Most of the work to allay public concerns has been
abdicated to the utility companies themselves, he noted.

IF THE SCIENCE DOESN’T PERSUADE THEM, MAYBE THE YEN WILL

¶10. (SBU) According to post’s Kyuden contacts, Genkai Town
officials appear inclined to give their approval for the
project. The latest wrinkle, however, is opposition from the
much larger city of Karatsu. Through a January 2005 merger with
several smaller communities, Karatsu moved its boundaries much
closer to the Genkai plant, and some 27,000 new Karatsu
residents (four times the population of Genkai Town) now live
within 10 kilometers of the facility. Kyuden has a “”safety
agreement”” with Genkai Town and Saga Prefecture dating from 1972
which requires these jurisdictions’ approval for new nuclear
power projects at the site. There is no such agreement with
Karatsu, and while the city is pushing to be included, both
Kyuden and Saga officials are resisting this added complication.

¶11. (SBU) In December, the Karatsu City Assembly set up a
“”Pluthermal Special Committee”” which will issue a formal stance
on the Kyuden project by the end of the current fiscal year
(March 2006). Kyuden suspects that money, not safety, may be
the biggest consideration for Karatsu officials. They told post
that under the current system, Genkai Town has received about
Yen 18.7 billion ($170 million at Yen 110/$) in GOJ subsidies
over the last 30 years. In addition to large property and
corporate taxes, Kyuden itself reportedly made a one-time
payment of at least Yen 3 billion ($27 million) to the town as a
“”cooperation fee”” to deal with local opposition groups. Local
observers speculate Karatsu wants access to this gravy train for
itself.

FUKUOKA 00000009 003 OF 003

COMMENT

¶12. (SBU) The GOJ and the Japanese power industry hope that a
successful launch of Kyuden’s pluthermal project will give
momentum to the GOJ’s “”nuclear fuel cycle”” initiative, and odds
are that Kyuden will soon win local approval to proceed. Still,
in discussions with post, Kyuden officials don’t hide their
exasperation with opposition groups who refuse to accept
Kyuden’s and METI’s detailed explanations as to why pluthermal
technology is safe. Noting that plutonium is already a natural
by-product of current generation methods, one Kyuden manager
attributed the opposition to an “”irrational”” fear of nuclear
energy among some Japanese that no science-based reassurances
may be able to change. Yet, opinions are divided even among
nuclear experts over the technology. The Kyuden official
admitted that a series of safety lapses in recent years at other
Japanese utilities’ nuclear power plants have cost the industry
serious public trust.

¶13. (SBU) The project also illustrates the evolving nature of
central government/local relations in today’s Japan. A Genkai
plant manager told post that had this project been proposed 20
or 30 years ago, GOJ approval and Kyuden safety assurances would
have been sufficient basis to forge ahead. These days, however,
local sentiments cannot be ignored – and officials in places
like Karatsu City know it. In an ironic twist to the GOJ’s
policy of pushing local communities to merge in order to promote
“”Chiho-Bunken”” (delegation of power to local governments),
Karatsu is now taking advantage of its bigger, post-merger
position to try to extract greater concessions from the GOJ and
Kyuden. Japan may remain highly centralized, but Tokyo
authorities and influential companies are finding that they no
longer call all the shots. End comment.
WONG

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