Toshiba lobbying U.S. to build nuclear waste repository in Mongolia

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Toshiba Corp. has lobbied a senior U.S. government official to realize an international nuclear fuel supply scheme that includes the construction of a nuclear waste repository in Mongolia, according to a copy of a letter by Toshiba's president obtained by Kyodo News on Friday.

Norio Sasaki, president of the Japanese electronics giant which has U.S. Westinghouse Electric Co. as a subsidiary, sent the letter dated May 12, 2011, to Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman.

The governments of Japan, the United States and Mongolia have already been discussing the scheme, called Comprehensive Fuel Supply, informally, according to an internal Japanese government document dated February 2011, obtained by Kyodo News.

The basic idea of the scheme is to supply countries wishing to introduce nuclear energy with reactors made by U.S., Japanese and other major companies that would use nuclear fuel produced in Mongolia, with the spent fuel returned to the country.

Mongolia is known to hold huge reserves of uranium.

Sasaki said in the letter, "As anti-CFS opposition can be anticipated, it is essential for the Parties to the project to promote closer coordination in order to secure continued progress."

A Toshiba public relations official confirmed that Sasaki had sent the letter to Poneman, while U.S. governmental sources said that the letter was circulated within the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama.

Early in May, the major Japanese daily Mainichi Shimbun carried a story on the project focusing on the possible building of a nuclear waste repository in Mongolia.

"We must recognize that the CFS project has now been publicized around the world," Sasaki's letter said, referring to similar news stories in April in the United States and Mongolia.
"Toshiba finds value in CFS because it adds value to Mongolia's natural resources and will contribute to the country's economic growth, while the interim storage solution will bring greater meaning to an international nonproliferation regime," the letter said.

The Obama administration has pushed for an international nuclear supply system as part of his call for a world free of nuclear weapons. Uranium enrichment and the reprocessing of spent fuel can be directed to both military and civilian purposes.

Obama wants to tighten control of these technologies through international supply schemes such as the envisioned CFS because there would be no need for any country that introduces nuclear power generation to develop such technologies and produce its own fuel.

Since the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant triggered by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, antinuclear sentiment has strengthened in Japan and other countries. Some European countries such as Germany and Italy have decided to forgo nuclear power in the future.

In the letter, however, Sasaki said that Japan and the United States should stay the course to promote the CFS even after the Fukushima crisis and "Toshiba's policy of active involvement in CFS remains unchanged."

In February, the Mongolian government sent a delegation to Tokyo for consultations on the CFS project, a Japanese senior official said on the condition of anonymity.

The official criticized Toshiba's lobbying activities, saying, "Even after such a terrible incident in Fukushima, those in the 'nuclear power' inner circle have no feelings of repentance at all." The official also said Sasaki's letter seems to reflect a sense of crisis in the nuclear power industry.

Another Japanese official expressed skepticism regarding the feasibility of the scheme. "How could such a project fly in the future? We have to negotiate with China and Russia if we want to transfer nuclear waste to Mongolia. With respect to transportation, these neighboring countries would have a veto."
There is also skepticism in academic circles in Japan, not only regarding the scheme's technical feasibility but Japan has its own nuclear recycling policy that excludes the option of disposing of spent nuclear fuel from other countries.

"Japan would not accept any spent fuel from any foreign country at the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho (Aomori Prefecture). On the other hand, could we thrust waste from overseas on Mongolia? It would be morally wrong," said Tadahiro Katsuta, associate professor at Meiji University who specializes in nuclear energy policy.

(Mainichi Japan) July 2, 2011

Source:Mainichi Japan



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