It is now definite that the Japan-U.S. atomic energy cooperation agreement will be extended automatically after its expiration date in July.
The extension of this 30-year-old agreement is not only extremely important for Japan’s energy policy but this issue also affects the very foundation of the Japan-U.S. relationship. While there are still many issues to be resolved, we would like to welcome this development.
Ever since Japan first began nuclear power generation, it has developed its practical applications and technical innovations based on close cooperation with the U.S. over the last half century.
Resource-poor Japan views the “nuclear fuel cycle” for the effective use of uranium as the basis of its energy policy.
The completion of this cycle requires the reprocessing of spent fuel rods from nuclear plants to extract plutonium. Japan is the only non-nuclear power allowed to undertake this process, thanks to this agreement that came into force in 1988.
Failure to extend this agreement would likely cause various problems for Japan’s nuclear power generation, including the disruption of the fuel cycle, so the U.S.’s policy on this had been the focus of great attention.
However, the U.S. did not take any special action, so the agreement will be extended automatically based on its provisions. Nevertheless, the conditions for future extensions will change. While this is indeed a standard provision, the atomic energy pact stipulates that either party can terminate the agreement by serving notice at least six months before the expiration date.
The Abe administration must realize that the current situation is different from the stable conditions of the past 30 years.
With regard to nuclear nonproliferation, the U.S. is demanding that Japan take active steps to reduce its surplus plutonium stockpile by vigorously reactivating the idle nuclear plants and increasing plutonium-thermal power generation. Accelerating work on the development of a fast-breeder reactor to succeed Monju and the completion of the reprocessing plant are urgent tasks.
Japan will be facing an era in which its seriousness about the use of nuclear power will be sternly tested by the U.S. The easygoing approach it has taken up until now will no longer be tolerated.
Other causes of concern include the slow pace of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety inspections, inconsistent court rulings on the safety of nuclear plants, and the delay in the reactivation of nuclear plants due to governors’ opposition. This may be perceived by the Trump administration as an indication of ambiguity and negative attitudes on the use of nuclear energy.
It is also necessary to include explicit provisions on the building of new nuclear plants and other matters in the Strategic Energy Plan to be revised this summer. The stable continuation of the Japan-U.S. atomic energy agreement is essential for the future of Japanese society.