admin's picture

By Al Hulsen

HAMAOKA, Japan (April 25, 2000 – PIDP/CPIS)---The sticky issue of shipping radioactive nuclear materials and mixed oxide fuel (MOX) between Japan and Europe via Pacific Ocean routes was given a delicate airing by two Pacific Island leaders and several officials Tuesday at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station, about 140 miles west of Tokyo.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Dr. Terepai Maoate and Niue Premier Sani Lakatani were the only heads of government to join the trip to the giant four-reactor station facing the Pacific, and a special meeting that followed the weekend PALM 2000 Japan-Pacific Island leaders’ summit in the southern resort city of Miyazaki.

One reliable source said the Forum Secretariat had discouraged a major show of interest in the facility "to safeguard the integrity of the leaders," and recommended primarily attendance by island nation technical experts.

Following a two-hour trip by bullet train from Tokyo past Mt. Fuji and another 40-minute bus trip through tea growing country to the nuclear power facility, Maoate and Lakatani, joined by officials from other South Pacific Forum nations, were given a rare inside look at the plant’s reactor, control room and rigorous safety procedures.

They then joined in a candid discussion of the contentious issue of shipping, over which there is concern that an accident aboard a transport vessel could result in severe Pacific human safety, environmental and economic crises.

The Cook Islands’ Maoate said, "I have learned a lot of things that I didn’t know about nuclear power stations. I am convinced of the safety measures that have been shown to us, of the plant itself."

He added, however, that "there should be a similar program on the transportation of the spent fuel, which is of a lot of concern to the people of the Pacific Islands.

"We live in a hurricane prone area," he said. "Nothing can stand in the way of hurricanes.

"You have to show us it is safe and your ships even can escape hurricanes."

Kohji Kaneko, Secretary General of the Overseas Reprocessing Committee, responded by saying, "The same safety measures applied to ground facilities also are applied to the vessels." He invited Pacific Island experts to visit the transport vessels to see the procedures for themselves.

One Pacific representative at the meeting, Terry Chapman of Niue, suggested that the issue of nuclear shipments through the Pacific -- on routes through the Panama Canal, the Strait of Magellan through the tip of South America, and through the far South Pacific to Africa -- could be eliminated if Japan built its own reprocessing plants.

Kaneko said a small commercial reprocessing plant now is being constructed with French help in Amori prefecture but, for the time being, it is essential the nuclear waste shipments still be made to the United Kingdom and France two to three times a year.

From the Hamaoka plant, spent fuel is placed in special containers and transported six miles by truck over local roads for loading aboard European-bound freighters. So far, since 1976 when the power station opened, 41 shipments have been made to Europe for reprocessing.

All agreed at the meeting that nuclear power is a valuable asset in reducing the use of fossil fuels and the generation of so called "greenhouse gases" that cause warming of the earth, the melting of polar icecaps, sea level rise, and danger to low-lying Pacific islands. But Pacific Island and Japanese representatives remained far apart on the issue of using the Pacific to ship radioactive nuclear materials and mixed oxide fuel (MOX) between Japan and Europe. Japan called it essential. Pacific Islanders wanted it stopped.

Rate this article: 
No votes yet

Add new comment