Rokkasho-Mura to be world's largest source of radioactive krypton greenpeace calls for full disclosure

Press release - 22 November, 2002

Aerial view of Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant taken from Greenpeace sampling kite.

The new reprocessing plant at Rokkasho-mura if operated will be the largest ever single source of the radioactive gas Krypton-85 (1), causing background levels of radiation to rise by hundreds of thousands of times around the facility, and increasing levels of radiation throughout Japan and eventually the world (2), Greenpeace claimed today. After ten days of sampling around Rokkasho-mura on the Pacific coast, and throughout Aomori Prefecture, a radiation monitoring team today was collecting background atmosphere samples in the Prefectural capital. In a challenge issued to Governor Kimura and the nuclear facilities owners, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), Greenpeace called for full disclosure of the estimates made on the concentrations of the radioactive gas Krypton-85 which will be released as soon as the plant begins operation scheduled for 2005.

"Rokkasho's operation will truly be a unique experiment on the environment of Japan and the world. Never before has nuclear operator planned to deliberately release such a vase quantity of this gas. Rokkasho is already the most expensive plutonium reprocessing plant ever built, now we know it will become one of the most polluting. Very little data has ever been published about atmospheric radioactive pollution from reprocessing plants, and yet millions of cubic metres of contaminated air will be pumped out every day from Rokkasho if operated. We are demanding full disclosure from the authorities on what they know and a full explanation as to their justification for such massive releases," said Shaun Burnie of Greenpeace International.

Once Krypton-85 is discharged from a reprocessing plant it distributes uniformly throughout the earth's atmosphere within a few years after release, so collective doses from Krypton-85 are important.

A Greenpeace sampling team has been operating throughout Aomori conducting a research programme into current background concentrations of Krypton-85. Using professional kite flyers and industrial-sized kites with sample pipes, Greenpeace was able to sample air at various altitudes and wind directions, sub-zero and blizzard condition, in Rokkasho-mura, Hiroseki, and Aomori City. From a scientific perspective, the background levels are important to collect and analyze as once operation begins concentrations throughout Japan, depending upon such factors as wind direction, weather systems and time of year will be raised. The samples are to be analyzed at research laboratory in Europe, which specializes in Krypton analysis.

In addition to sampling for background Krypton-85, a radiation monitoring team from the French independent laboratory Criirad has been collecting samples of soil, plant life and water from the region around Rokkasho-mura. Levels of radiation around the plant and beyond will increase significantly if the plant is operated, contaminating important agricultural crops, milk, as well as marine life. Detailed information on the expected levels of contamination, as well as the radiation doses to be received by people in the area have not been made public by the authorities.

"Japan's plutonium program has collapsed with no demand for the vast stocks it already owns. Rokkasho-mura will add a further 100 tons of plutonium by 2020 if it is permitted to operate. Time is running out to stop this plant. In less than 6 months tests using uranium are due to be conducted which will contaminate the plant. Before then the nuclear industry and Government have to make a difficult but necessary decision. For the sake of the environment, human health and non-proliferation this facility has to be scrapped before one gram of nuclear material is introduced," said Kazue Suzuki of Greenpeace Japan.

Notes: A public lecture will be given in Aomori City on November 23rd by Criirad staff and Japanese scientists and Greenpeace on the sampling operation conducted in the region, the planned radioactive discharges, and the dispersal and impacts they will have on the Japanese environment. A lecture will also be given in Tokyo on November 24th.(1)Krypton-85 is a strong beta-gamma emitter with a half-life of 10.7 years. It is a fission product retained in reactor spent fuel until released during reprocessing. Krypton-85 released to atmosphere exposes people to external beta irradiation of the skin, and to uniform whole body gamma irradiation. Although the dose from a single decay of Krypton-85 is small, the amounts of Krypton-85 discharged are very large - the largest of all nuclides emitted by reprocessing. Accordingly doses from Krypton-85 are significant.(2)The plant operators JNFL plan to release all of the radioactive Krypton-85 contained in the spent fuel of Japanese utilities. The current planned release from the discharge chimney is 330,000 TeraBequerels each year of operation. At this level of discharge Rokkasho-mura will be releasing the largest amount of Krypton-85 of any reprocessing plant operating in the world today such as the British Nuclear Fuels plants at Sellafield or the two la Hague plants operated by Cogema. In fact no reprocessing plant in history, including military plutonium plants in the United States or Soviet Union, have discharged this amount of Krypton-85 on an annual basis.