US supplied uranium used to test new Japanese plutonium reprocessing plant

Press release - 21 December, 2004
Seven Greenpeace activists and over 150 people from all over Japan protested at the Rokkasho plutonium reprocessing plant this morning. The protests started as Japanese Nuclear Fuel Limited started to load uranium, including a shipment from the USA, into the plant for the first time (1).

Protestors from Greenpeace, and other NGO's, demonstrate in a blizzard at the gates of the Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. The proest is against the tests and reprocessing of Depleted Uranium.

"These tests must be cancelled and plans for full operation abandoned. Rokkasho could produce as much as 8000 kilograms of plutonium a year, enough to build more than 1000 nuclear weapons. Japan has no justification to produce weapons-usable plutonium and has no peaceful use for it," said Greenpeace Japan Nuclear Campaigner, Atsuko Nogawa.

"Japan already has 40 tonnes of plutonium and has failed in efforts to use it as nuclear fuel. The Bush administration has given the green light to start-up the plant, even though it knows the dangers of nuclear proliferation in the region," said Ogawa.

Two years ago Greenpeace challenged the Bush administration to review Rokkasho, particularly the impact it will have on the growth in plutonium stocks, and on non-proliferation in North East Asia. No such review has been conducted (2).

There are only two commercial reprocessing plants currently in operation worldwide - British Nuclear Fuel Limited's Sellafield plant in the UK, and Cogema's La Hague facility in France. These state-owned facilities have proved to be the most contaminating nuclear facilities in operation, and a failure on economic, environmental and proliferation grounds. The French plant, operated by Areva/COGEMA, has failed to secure contracts with its national electric utility, EDF, beyond 2007. The UK media has reported that reprocessing will end at Sellafield by 2010.

The Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant is estimated to have cost $US 20 billion, more than the GDP of Fiji, Mongolia or Belize. Based on French technology, it has taken 20 years to construct and is a relic before it has even opened.

"This plant is an expensive failure and a monument to the risks of proliferation of nuclear weapons materials. Both the Japanese government and US administration need to rethink their dangerous plans and close it down," concluded Nogawa.

Greenpeace is an independent campaigning organisation that uses non-violent creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems to force solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.

VVPR info: Laura Lombardi,Picture Desk,Greenpeace International,(m)+31 6 46162009

Notes: 1 - The uranium will be used to test equipment over the next 12 months, and will be followed by spent fuel tests, scheduled for December 2005. Given the many problems experienced over the years during construction of the plant, it is expected that there will be further problems and delays. 2 - Greenpeace is opposed to the Rokkasho plant on non-proliferation, environmental, and human health grounds. Since the USA approved the uranium export, it has been disclosed that South Korea has conducted plutonium and enriched uranium tests, while the crisis over North Korea's nuclear weapons program has remained unresolved. The letter from Greenpeace to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is available on request.