Residents' Lawsuit to Block Nuclear Fuel-Reprocessing Plant Reviewed by Japanese Court
TOKYO — An appeals court recently began reviewing a lawsuit filed by residents in northern Japan who are opposed to a government-backed program to reprocess radioactive waste at a plant nearby, a lawyer said.
The residents sued the Japanese government in early 2002 to stop Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. from operating its plant in Rokkasho village in northern Aomori prefecture (state). But the Aomori District Court quickly dismissed the case, and residents appealed.
Koji Asaishi, the plaintiffs' lawyer, said the Sendai High Court began hearing residents claims that the plant's opening and all uranium experiments there scheduled for the coming months should be blocked.
The plant is at the center of Japan's hopes of using an experimental reprocessed nuclear fuel — known as mixed oxide, or MOX — in nuclear reactors as a way of boosting the nation's energy self-sufficiency. The plant's opening, now scheduled for 2006, is years behind schedule following a radioactive water leak there in 2002 and protests from local residents and officials.
Residents say reprocessing the waste into fuel is too costly and have demanded that the government publicly disclose its cost analysis, Asaishi said.
They also say the possibility of an accident involving U.S. military planes stationed nearby risks releasing radioactive material into the air, he said.
Japan's 52 nuclear plants account for nearly 35 percent of its energy supply.
The government's energy policy calls for building 11 new plants by 2010 and converting as many as 18 electricity-generating reactors to use MOX as a transition to more advanced fast-breeder reactors, which run on plutonium and can also generate extra plutonium fuel.
All of Japan's MOX would be made from spent fuel rods at the Rokkasho plant and shipped to domestic plants.
Before the plant opens, Japan Nuclear Fuel plans to run experiments to enrich uranium, a step in the process of making MOX, in the coming months.
Japan Nuclear Fuel officials couldn't be reached for comment.
The appeals hearing follows recent setbacks for the nation's nuclear program, which has been plagued by safety violations, reactor malfunctions, and accidents.
On Aug. 9, a nonradioactive steam leak killed five people and injured six others in Japan's worst-ever nuclear-plant accident, at a facility in Mihama, west of Tokyo.
In July, Japanese officials admitted that they hid a government-commissioned study conducted in 1994 showing that reprocessing radioactive waste into MOX would cost twice as much as burying it at a disposal site.
Source: Associated Press