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Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and Nuclear Complex, Aomori, Japan


Description

Rokkasho is a small village in Aomori prefecture in northern Japan. Historically it has been primarily a fishing town, however today it is more famous for its nuclear complex. This complex includes a uranium enrichment plant which started partial operations in 1992, a MOX (plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide fuel) fabrication facility, a low level nuclear waste storage facility which opened in December 1992, a high level nuclear waste temporary storage facility, and lastly the Rokkasho reprocessing plant which began construction in 1993 and has now been delayed for the 24th time since then [1]. The central government of Japan has provided monetary compensation for the town of Rokkasho, including around 20bn yen in 1995, which was used to build a new gymnasium, museum and a golf course [6]. Apart from the monetary subsidies, the huge nuclear project owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) provided a lot of jobs for Rokkasho residents, thus making the entire village highly dependent on the nuclear complex. 

Currently around 5000 people, which is roughly half of Rokkasho’s entire population are employed at one of the nuclear projects in Rokkasho [10]. At the moment, spent nuclear fuel is being shipped to the UK, France and Germany for reprocessing, before being shipped back to Japan for storage. As part of Japan’s national nuclear cycle strategy they want to be able to reprocess the spent nuclear fuel locally, which is why the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is so significant politically. Japan first began shipping away their spent nuclear fuel for offshore reprocessing in 1995 after an accident which forced the shutdown of a fast-breeder reactor (reactors that create more fuel than they consume) in Monju (https://ejatlas.org/conflict/the-fast-breeder-reacton-monju-japan) [3]. 

Japan has the largest stockpile of plutonium out of all countries in the world that have a non-nuclear weapons policy [4]. According to Foreign Policy, due to the fact that Japan currently only has 5 reactors operating, there is “no way Japan can operate Rokkasho without piling up tons of plutonium for years on end” [7]. This creates concerns both for Japanese people and the international community. Residents of Rokkasho live as close as a kilometre away from the various nuclear projects and facilities, and many of them are concerned about radioactive pollution in the water and air. Another major concern of activist groups and residents is the fact that radioactivity is invisible, making it very difficult to guarantee the safety of marine products, as well as the quality of the air and water in Rokkasho and Aomori [5]. This is also a concern that incites fear in a lot of people, because even if cases of diseases such as cancer were discovered in the area, it would be extremely difficult to prove its causes or link those cases to the nuclear complex [5]. 

Apart from the fact that the Japanese government is still pro-nuclear energy and very committed to closing the nuclear fuel cycle through establishing nuclear reprocessing, there are two other major reasons for why the Rokkasho reprocessing plant “must” go on. One is that the central government has already spend such exorbitant amounts of funds on this project that it would be a huge economic loss to abandon it now; the second is the fact that all the other facilities of the Rokkasho complex have large sunk costs, which cannot be recovered if the reprocessing plant is abandoned and thereby sufficient revenue is not generated [10]. The reason why the completion of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant was delayed for the 24th and most recent time is because it was revealed that Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited had failed to conduct certain required safety check-ups for over a decade [11]. This piece of news which came out in October this year (2017) can surely have no other impact than causing additional concern for the residents of Rokkasho. 

Mobilisation against reprocessing plant: There have been varied forms of protest and awareness creating campaigns in regards to Rokkasho over the last couple of decades. In 2006 the documentary Rokkasho Rhapsody, directed by Hitomi Kamanaka was released. There is also an ongoing artistic project called Stop Rokkasho, created by Ryuichi Sakamoto, where local and international musicians, painters, photographers and designers have submitted creative works in direct protest to Rokkasho and to create awareness about the dangers of nuclear energy [8]. Among Rokkasho residents some of the biggest voices of resistance has come from the individuals who participated in ‘Rokkasho Rhapsody’ including Keiko Kikukawa, owner of the “Land of Flowers and Herbs” who has been protesting loudly for over 16 years, and Tomekochi Sakai, former fisherman and central figure of the anti-nuclear reprocessing plant movement [9]. In 2008, citizens of Aomori submitted a petition that had garnered 850,000 signatures to the Cabinet Office of Japan and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry [5]. 

Mobilisation against high-level radioactive waste storage facility: Protests against this facility began as early as 1985 when citizens made a petition for its closing, which was ultimately unsuccessful [1]. In 1986 a group formed of local fishing people and farmers. They staged a protest which was name the ‘Battle at Sea’ where they “tried to block Japan’s Marine Security Guard from surveying the coast as part of the planning efforts for the NFCF” (Nuclear Fuel Cycle Facility) [1]. This waste storage facility was always meant to be temporary, until the location of a permanent one was decided upon. However, residents have been very concerned for a long time that unless they resist, the government will not keep its word and indeed find a new waste storage site [3]. In 1998 as a ship carrying 30 tons of high-level nuclear waste arrived in Aomori from the UK where it had been reprocessed, local activists staged a sitting protest in an attempt to block the port in Rokkasho, and the governor of Aomori at the time also tried to ban this ship from docking [3]. In 1992 about one hundred local residents protested by trying to block the gates to the waste storage facility as trucks full of nuclear waste were entering, however the protest was shut down with some minor complications [2]. 

Basic Data

NameRokkasho Reprocessing Plant and Nuclear Complex, Aomori, Japan
CountryJapan
ProvinceAomori Prefecture
SiteRokkasho
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level

Source of Conflict

Type of Conflict (1st level)Nuclear
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Other
Specific CommoditiesPlutonium
Uranium

Project Details and Actors

Project DetailsThe Rokkasho reprocessing plant is owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited. It has an annual capacity of 800 tons of uranium or 8 tons of plutonium. The spent nuclear fuel storage plant capacity is 3000 tons.

Construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant began in April 1993, however since then costs have gone up and the prospective completion date has been pushed forward 24 times due to increased safety checks, failure of completing required safety checks as well as increases in costs. It is now estimated that it will not be finished by September, 2018, which was the most recent goal.

Affected population (11,000) refers to the population of Rokkasho, which would be most directly affected in case of an accident.
Level of Investment (in USD)$25 billion
Type of PopulationRural
Potential Affected Population11,000
Start Date1985
Company Names or State EnterprisesJapan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) from Japan - Owner of plant
Relevant government actorsJapanese central government
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersGreenpeace, http://www.greenpeace.org/japan/ja/

Stop Rokkasho, http://stop-rokkasho.org

The Ten Thousand Plaintiffs Coalition

Surfrider Foundation Japan, https://www.surfrider.jp

Consumers Union of Japan, http://www.nishoren.org

The Conflict and the Mobilization

Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Trade unions
Fisher people
Forms of MobilizationArtistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Blockades
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsPotential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Air pollution, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsPotential: Accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents

Outcome

Project StatusUnder construction
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.The project is still ongoing despite protests.

Sources and Materials

References

[1] Karan, P., & Gilbreath, D. (2005). Japan in the 21st Century: Environment, Economy, and Society. University Press of Kentucky. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2jchpm

[9] Rokkasho Rhapsody 2006 (Documentary)
http://www.rokkasho-rhapsody.com/en/people.htm

Links

[5] The Japan Times 2008, 'Fishery, consumer groups say no to nuclear reprocessing in Rokkasho'
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2008/01/29/national/fishery-consumer-groups-say-no-to-nuclear-reprocessing-in-rokkasho/#.WfcJfltSzcs

[2] JOC.com 1992, 'Japan activists protest nuclear waste dump'
https://www.joc.com/japan-activists-protest-nuclear-waste-dump_19921208.html

[3] The LA Times 1998, 'Ship carrying tons of nuclear waste barred from small Japanese port'
http://articles.latimes.com/1998/mar/11/news/mn-27793

[4] The Economist 2012, 'Rokkasho and a hard place- Japan's nuclear future'
https://www.economist.com/news/asia/21566018-governments-fudge-its-nuclear-future-remains-unconvincing-rokkasho-and-hard-place

[7] Foreign Policy 2017, 'Tokyo and Washington have another nuclear problem'
http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/17/tokyo-and-washington-have-another-nuclear-problem-china-korea/

[8] Wired 2007, 'Kraftwerk contribute track to Sakamoto's Stop-Rokkasho project'
https://www.wired.com/2007/05/kraftwerk_contr/

[10] The Diplomat 2016, 'Why Japan's Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant lives on'
https://thediplomat.com/2016/04/why-japans-rokkasho-nuclear-reprocessing-plant-lives-on/

[11] The Japan Times 2017, 'Japan nuclear fuel skipped safety checks at Rokkasho plant for 14 years'
https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/10/12/national/japan-nuclear-fuel-skipped-safety-checks-rokkasho-plant-14-years/#.Wfx7MEwUX-Z

[6] The Independent 1995, 'Japanese nuclear dump poisons village goodwill'
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/japanese-nuclear-dump-poisons-village-goodwill-1615541.html

Other Documents

Protest Postcards against Rokkasho reprocessing plant that were pre-addressed to the Prime Minister, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Governor of Aomori Prefecture and the Mayor of Rokkasho Village credit: Consumers Union of Japan
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/rokkasyo_hagaki.jpg

Protest against nuclear reprocessing plant in Rokkasho credit: Greenpeace
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/GP019JV.jpg

Graphic entitled 'I can't stop warning you' created by artist Shigeru Okada for the 'Stop-Rokkasho' art project
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/i_cant_stop_warning_you.jpg

Photograph of Rokkasho by Mikiya Takimoto, part of the 'Stop-Rokkasho' art project
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/rokkasho001.jpg

Protester with a STOP sign against Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant photo credit: Greenpeace
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/GP0YQ1.jpg

Protester with a STOP sign against Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant photo credit: Greenpeace
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/GP018IU.jpg

Painting entitled "Peace" by artist Yuko Kono as part of the 'Stop-Rokkasho' art project
https://file.ejatlas.org/docs/peace_3.jpg

Meta Information

ContributorMariko Takedomi Karlsson, research intern @ EnvJustice, [email protected]
Last update06/11/2017

Images

 

Protest Postcards against Rokkasho reprocessing plant that were pre-addressed to the Prime Minister, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Governor of Aomori Prefecture and the Mayor of Rokkasho Village

credit: Consumers Union of Japan

Protest against nuclear reprocessing plant in Rokkasho

credit: Greenpeace

Graphic entitled 'I can't stop warning you' created by artist Shigeru Okada for the 'Stop-Rokkasho' art project

 

Photograph of Rokkasho by Mikiya Takimoto, part of the 'Stop-Rokkasho' art project

 

Protester with a STOP sign against Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant

photo credit: Greenpeace

Protester with a STOP sign against Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant

photo credit: Greenpeace

Painting entitled "Peace" by artist Yuko Kono as part of the 'Stop-Rokkasho' art project