Japan and the United States are set to further consolidate their cooperation in the field of nuclear energy. During a teleconference with US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Japan’s Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda expressed the government’s intention to work on developing plutonium-burning fast reactors and next-generation nuclear plants called small modular reactors (SMRs) through international cooperation.
The proactive use of nuclear energy is crucial for Japan’s energy security when considering its limited natural resources. It also provides a way to contribute towards the international demand for decarbonization.
Talks are also underway for technical cooperation between the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on a fast reactor project of a US nuclear power company founded by Bill Gates.
The development of JAEA’s Monju reactor in Japan, which had an output capacity of 280,000 kilowatts, was decommissioned six years ago due to factors including inadequate inspection. It is still considered valuable intellectual property because of the data accumulated during the 250 days it was in operation.
A closer cooperative relationship between Japan and the United States will be a win-win for both countries. While Japan struggles to build a fast reactor domestically, the United States wants to advance its plans to build one.
Fast reactors play a crucial role in the nuclear fuel cycle, which forms the cornerstone of Japan’s nuclear energy policy. But the suspension of earlier joint research with France means Japan needs to make up for the delay.
The desirability of Japan-US cooperation in the development of fast reactors is clear also from how the Japan-US nuclear energy cooperation agreement allows Japan, a non-nuclear weapons state, to recycle plutonium from the spent fuel from nuclear power plants to produce new fuel.
The importance of the nuclear fuel cycle was also highlighted by Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in his campaign for the presidency of the Liberal Democratic Party.
Fast reactors will make it possible to reduce the volume and toxicity of high-level radioactive waste (nuclear waste) from nuclear power generation and contribute to reducing the burden of deep geological repositories.
Some are against the development of fast reactors in Japan because they require large amounts of metallic sodium, which ignites upon contact with air. But fast reactors are already in practical use in Russia.
As for developing SMRs, Poland has expressed an interest in Japan’s next-generation nuclear plant, the high-temperature gas-cooled reactor.
Almost 11 years after the Fukushima disaster, the world is returning to nuclear power. Prime Minister Kishida, Minister Hagiuda, and other leaders need to stay on top of this trend.
(Read the Sankei Shimbun editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun