U.S., Japan Sign Nuclear Power Cooperation Plan

WASHINGTON, DC, January 10, 2007 (ENS) – The United States and Japan will collaborate on a plan to build new nuclear power plants, top energy officials of the two countries said in Washington Tuesday.

U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman and Japanese Minister of Economy Trade and Industry Akira Amari said their countries will collaborate on various aspects of the civilian nuclear fuel cycle.


Japanese Minister of Economy Trade and Industry Akira Amari and U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman shake hands for the cameras at their joint press conference Tuesday. (Photo courtesy DOE)
Bodman said that detailed plans will be developed over the next three months but will include inviting Japanese engineers to work on new nuclear power plants in the United States.

He said that Japanese scientists and nuclear engineers would offer technical expertise in advanced, fast reactors, which use nuclear fuel more efficiently than current reactors. Fast reactors yield more energy while producing less radioactive waste.

Japan is in the process of developing such reactors to be operational on a trial basis next year, Amari said.

"In Japan we have among the greatest scientists and engineers in this field," Bodman said.

The officials said their joint civilian nuclear energy action plan will be completed by April 2007.

The plan will build upon the civilian nuclear energy technical cooperation already underway between the two countries and will include regulatory and nonproliferation-related nuclear exchanges.


The Shika nuclear power plant in Ishikawa Prefecture on Japan's west coast is one of the country's newest. The second Shika reactor went commercial on March 15, 2006. (Photo courtesy Hokuriku Electric Power Co)
Japan has bilateral nuclear power co-operation treaties with six nations - the United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia and China. Under these agreements, the parties exchange expertise and information on the peaceful use of nuclear power, and provide and receive nuclear equipment, materials and services.

Bodman and Amari said the new plan will focus on research and development activities under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership initiative, advanced by the United States.

Under the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, GNEP, the United States will build a nuclear fuel recycling facility and sell fuel for nuclear power plants to other countries.

While Japan has a nuclear fuel recycling facility, it currently ships much of the spent nuclear fuel from its 54 operating nuclear power plants to France and Britain for reprocessing. The reprocessed fuel is shipped back to Japan for further use.

While there has never been a disaster, the shipping of such large amounts of radioactive material halfway around the world has drawn objections from many countries along the shipping routes as well as from environmentalists who point out that the ships could be subject to accident or terrorist attack that would release radioactivity into the environment.

If Japan has its spent nuclear fuel reprocessed in the United States, the shipping distance would be roughly halved.

The GNEP, endorsed by President George W. Bush, is now undergoing a programmatic environmental impact statement process, which allows for public comment.


Owned and operated by FirstEnergy, the Perry nuclear power plant is near Cleveland, Ohio, on the shores of Lake Erie. It began operating in 1987. (Photo courtesy FirstEnergy)
In the United States, 103 nuclear reactors supply nearly 20 percent of the nation's electricity, but since the 1979 accident at Three Mile Island and the 1986 fire and explosion at Chernobyl in Ukraine, safety concerns have stalled U.S. nuclear development. Only one U.S. plant has come on line recently, in 1996.

The Bush administration has encouraged the nuclear industry, which now has 18 new nuclear power plants in various stages of licensing and siting approval, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry association.

To ensure mutual energy security and address global climate change, Bodman and Amari said both sides recognize they must improve energy efficiency and diversify their energy mix.

The two countries intend to make wider use of "clean and alternative energy, such as clean use of coal, nuclear energy and renewables," the officials said.

Bodman welcomed Japanese participation in the $1 billion FutureGen Project, a United States sponsored initiative to construct the world’s first emission-free coal fired electricity generation plant to be constructed in the United States at a site yet to be selected.

The project will employ coal gasification technology integrated with combined cycle electricity generation and the sequestration of carbon dioxide emissions.

Japan will contribute expertise, funding, and information exchange on carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Both sides said they recognize that the engagement of emerging economies, particularly China and India, is "crucial for ensuring global energy security."

Integrating these growing energy consumers into the global energy market and promoting responsible market-based policies and energy use will be a priority for both countries, said Bodman and Amari.

The officials agreed to strengthen their countries' cooperation with China and India on energy efficiency and emergency preparedness. They said the Five-Country Energy Ministers’ meeting in December 2006, in which ministers from China, India, Japan, Korea and the United States participated, was a good example of a coordinated engagement effort.