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Japan: Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant fuels debate

Like many other small towns in Japan, the village of Rokkasho (六ヶ所村) in Aomori prefecture, situated in the north of Japan's main island Honshū and just south of its northernmost prefecture Hokkaido, hosts a nuclear facility. And like other nuclear facilities in Japan, while fueling the local economy, the plant's main function is not to generate energy for local inhabitants of Aomori but rather to power the country's larger urban centers, whose need for energy drives and maintains Japan's nuclear industry as a whole.


Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

Rokkasho Nuclear Reprocessing Plant (from Wikipedia)

The nuclear facility at Rokkasho is different from others in Japan, however, in a critical respect: it is not, strictly speaking, a nuclear power plant. It is something very different, referred to as a reprocessing plant (再処理工場). Blogger charider37 explains:

再処理工場とは、原子力発電所で出た使用済み核燃料を文字通り再処理して再び使用可能な燃料にするための工場のことです。

A reprocessing plant is a plant that literally reprocesses spent nuclear fuel expelled from nuclear power stations so that it can be re-used as fuel.

この使用済み核燃料の再処理技術は世界的に見てもフランスと日本にしか存在せず、本来はゴミであるものからエネルギーを抽出できるという点に関して非常に注目されているものです。

The reprocessing technology for this spent nuclear fuel only exists nowhere in the world except in France and in Japan, and the idea of extracting energy from something that is essentially garbage is attracting a great deal of attention.

しかし、一方でマイナス点も多く、この再処理工場で再加工される際に発生する高レベル放射性廃棄物をどうするのか。そもそも、そんな危険なものをどうやって扱うのか等等・・・

However, on the other hand there are many negatives as well, [for example] what should be done with the high-level radioactive waste that is emitted during reprocessing at the reprocessing plant. To begin with, how can something so dangerous even be treated, and so on and so on…

特に怖いのは、万が一事故が起こったときに漏れ出す放射性物質(放射能を出す物質)です。特に、日本は地震大国のため工場自体の破損は正直言ってあると思います。

What is especially frightening is the radioactive material (material which emits radioactivity) that would be leaked in the remote chance of an accident. In this country of earthquakes in particular, there is honestly-speaking [a real chance] that the plant could be damaged.

そんな時に一体どうするのか・・・下手をするとチェルノブイリのような惨事を日本にも招いてしまう虞さえあります。

In that case, what would we do… worse comes to worse, there is the fear that this could lead to a disaster like Chernobyl in Japan.

One of the convergence points for discussions of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is a documentary film entitled Rokkasho Rhapsody, directed by Kamanaka Hitomi (鎌仲ひとみ) [ja] and reviewed in English by students at the University of Chicago “Popular Culture In/Out of Japan” blog here and here (and with its own blog).

Blogger charider37 continues the above entry with a reference to Rokkasho Rhapsody:

正直な所、僕はこの再処理工場に関しては賛成でも反対でもありません。

In all honesty, I am neither for or against this reprocessing plant.

何故ならあまりにも知識が少なすぎるためです。賛成派の意見を聞けば納得できるし、反対派の意見を聞いても納得できます。

[The reason I am not for or against it is that] I don't have enough knowledge about it. I am convinced when I listen to people who are for it, but I am also convinced when I listen to people who are against it.

また、今回の監督のコンセプトが「反対、賛成はともかくとにかく多くの人にこのことを知ってもらいたい。まずは『再処理』という単語を広めること」ということなので、これに則って今回の旅の中で考えたこと、感じたことなどをつづす綴っていきたいと思います。

Also, the concept of the director [of Rokkasho Rapsody] was that she wanted to “let many people know about [Rokkasho], putting aside the issue of being for or against it; to first of all spread [knowledge of] the word ‘reprocessing'”. In accordance with this [concept], I want to relate the thoughts and feelings I had during my trip [to Rokkasho].

No Nukes More Peace
Demonstration in Shibuya, March 16, 2008

Fears of the possible damage caused by the Rokkasho reprocessing plant to the local and global environment have sparked local fishermen, environmentalists, and other concerned citizens to mount various campaigns [ja] against the plant. Following on events held in earlier months, on March 16th protests took place in Shibuya [ja], Tokyo, and in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Blogger, translator and singer Suzuki Satomi (鈴木里美) wrote in her blog about the Sendai event:

今日、青森県六ヶ所村の使用済核燃料再処理施設をSTOPしよう!というイベントが仙台で開催されて、私も参加してきました。ドキュメンタリー映画をみて、さまざまな分野の方々のお話を聞いて、そのあとみんなで仙台の街中をピースウォークしました。いろんなことを感じましたし、いまも感じています。放射能がたれ流されるのは、やっぱり嫌ですね!海に流れれば薄められるとか、空に流れれば拡散されるとかいうまえに、そういう施設から放射能を一切放出してほしくないですね。それができるまでは稼働して欲しくないです。

Today, I participated in an event that was held in Sendai to try to put a stop to the reprocessing facility for spent nuclear fuel in Aomori's Rokkasho village. Everybody watched a documentary film and listened to talks by people from various different specializations, and after that we went on a peace walk through the whole town of Sendai. I felt many things [while I was there], and I am still feeling them now. Discharging radioactivity is of course terrible! They say even though it will be drained into the sea, it will be watered down and even though it will be released into the air, it will be diffused; but I don't want any radioactivity at all to be emitted from this facility. Until this is possible, I don't want this [facility] to go into operation.


Sendai demo poster

Poster for event organized in Sendai (artwork by Saito Keisuke, original PDF file here)

Along with the intricate artwork of a flyer handed out at the Sendai event (above), a group called No Nukes More Hearts put together an assortment of creative designs on display at the Shibuya demonstration:


No Nukes More Hearts- Logo

No Nukes More Hearts, by Misao Redwolf


Good Choice Good Future

Good Choice Good Future, by Asa


No! Nukes!!

No! Nukes!!, by anonymous

Blogger Watase Yoshitaka (渡瀬義孝) meanwhile emphasizes the scale of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in this post:

この再処理問題、実は日本の将来にとって取り返しのつかない重大な意味を持つ。
日本人の健康や食の安全にとって、再処理工場は最大の脅威だ。
中国産食品の汚染問題どころではない。

This reprocessing problem is very significant for the future of Japan as it is something that cannot be undone.
A reprocessing plant is the biggest threat to the health and food safety of Japanese people.
This is a much bigger problem than that of contaminated food products from China.

再処理工場から出る放射能は、1日で原発1年分。
つまり六ヶ所では365基の原発が稼動することと同じ放射能汚染が起きる。

In one day, the reprocessing plant emits as much radioactivity as a nuclear power plant emits in one year.
In other words, Rokkasho will produce as much radioactive contamination as would the operation of 365 nuclear power plants.

しかも、原発では環境中に排出する放射能を規制しているが、なぜか再処理工場ではほとんど規制なし。金をかければ取り付け可能な除去装置も設置していない。
その結果、再処理工場の煙突からは大気中に、排水口からは海へ、大量の放射能が流される。

Furthermore, while in the case of nuclear power plants radioactivity emitted into the environment is regulated, for some reason in the case of reprocessing plants emissions are for the most part unregulated. Neither has there been any installation of a removal systems [for radioactive waste] which could be set up if money was spent on it.
As a result, large quantities of radioactivity flow from the chimney of the reprocessing plant into the atmosphere, and from the drainage into the sea.

世界でも有数の漁場である三陸の海は、確実に放射能で汚染されていくだろう。
あの有名な大間のマグロなど、美味しい魚やカキなどに体内濃縮された放射能は、私たちの食卓に忍び込むことになる。
フランスのラ・アーグやイギリスのセラフィールドの再処理工場周辺では、小児白血病の発症率が全国平均をはるかに上回り、深刻な健康被害が生じている。

The Sanriku Sea, one the most prominent fishing zones in the world, will certainly become polluted with radioactivity.
The radioactivity concentrated inside those famous Oma tuna, inside delicious fish and oysters, will creep onto our dining table.
In the area around La Hague in France, and around Sellafield in the U.K., the incidence rates of leukemia in children are far higher than the national average, and there is serious damage being caused to people's health.

しかし、日本のマスコミはこの問題についてほとんど報道しない。
最大のスポンサーである電力会社の圧力を恐れているからだ。
商業メディアの限界は明白。

However, the Japanese mass media is hardly covering this problem at all.
The reason is that they fear the pressure of their greatest sponsors, the power companies.
The limits of commercial media are obvious.


Video of the walk a group organized from Izumo to Rokkasho in 2007.

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