Japan on Tuesday approved an energy plan that sets ambitious targets for nuclear energy use and sustains a struggling program for spent-fuel recycling despite setbacks after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The plan approved Tuesday by the Cabinet noted for the first time the need to reduce the plutonium stockpile, given international security concerns. The stockpile results from technical challenges in achieving fuel recycling and from slow restarts of reactors to burn it as anti-nuclear sentiment is still widespread among the Japanese public.
Japan had repeatedly stated its commitment to transparency and appropriate handling of the plutonium, but the U.S. in particular has raised concerns in recent years, urging Japan to suspend a planned launch of its key reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, northern Japan.
"The energy plan makes it clearer our commitment to reduce the amount," Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters. "The government will actively involve to appropriately manage, use and reduce the plutonium."
The plan, however, did not give timeline or other details to reduce the stockpile.
Japan has nearly 47 tons of plutonium, more than three-quarters of which is kept in France and Britain where Japanese spent fuel had been reprocessed as Japan hasn't fully achieved own capability to reprocess into plutonium-based MOX fuel pellets at home. The total is enough to make 6,000 atomic bombs, though the Rokkasho plant operator rules out any proliferation risks, saying all plutonium is stored safely and closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The energy plan calls for further development of renewable energy but still calls for nuclear energy to account for 20 to 22 percent of Japan's power generation by fiscal 2030. It sets a 22 to 24 percent target for renewable energy, with the remainder coming from fossil fuels, keeping the 2015 goals.
Experts say attaining that goal is almost impossible since utilities are opting to scrap aging reactors rather than to invest in meeting tighter post-disaster safety standards. Uncertainty over what to do with massive radioactive waste in the crowded and earthquake-prone island nation is another big concern.
The plan avoided the issue of building new nuclear plants that experts say needed to achieve the target. The plan also fell short of giving details of how to bolster renewables.
Japanese utilities have decided to scrap 19 reactors, bringing the number of usable reactors down to 35.