JAPAN | Draft accord notes Mongolia as home for spent nuclear fuel

Posted on July 19, 2011


JAPAN | MAINICHI | 19 July 2011

TOKYO (Kyodo) — A draft Japanese-U.S.-Mongolian agreement over the creation of a nuclear fuel production and spent fuel disposal cycle clearly refers to Mongolia as the destination of such fuel, according to its text, which was obtained by Kyodo News on Monday.

The draft statement of intent among the three countries on the so-called “comprehensive fuel services” would create the world’s first framework in which Mongolia exports uranium fuel to other countries and disposes on its soil of the fuel spent there.

The draft agreement mentions the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, in possibly providing technical support to Mongolia in developing used fuel storage facilities there.

While the concept appears difficult to implement in light of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, hopes for such an initiative linger among those involved, including some private-sector firms.

Establishing a system of permanently disposing of spent fuel that gets generated at nuclear power reactors presents a significant challenge to countries intent on adopting atomic power. Even Japan and the United States, advanced nuclear power users, have yet to establish such a system.

At the same time, Japanese and U.S. companies are eager to capitalize on the initiative as a possible deal-making solution as they go about marketing nuclear power infrastructure to countries interested in adopting nuclear power, critics say.

The draft agreement notes the importance of developing “multilateral approaches” to the nuclear fuel cycle and possibly creating mechanisms for assuring nuclear fuel supply to such countries.

The document also says the three countries should meet regularly to develop “commercial arrangements to provide comprehensive fuel services at the front-end and back-end of the fuel cycle in a safe, secure, responsible and peaceful manner.”

In Japan, the initiative was led by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry. The ministry aimed to have the agreement, drafted by the United States, signed last February, but the move was postponed after the Foreign Ministry lodged an objection, Japanese sources said.

An internal document at the industry ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, which was created in February and later obtained by Kyodo, noted that the Japanese ministry and Toshiba Corp. were engaging in behind-the-scenes talks with the U.S. Department of Energy and the Mongolian government over the initiative.

The document went on to say Mongolia had already begun contacting the United Arab Emirates over the possible supply of Mongolian uranium fuel and acceptance of the fuel after its use.

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