UK and Japan agree to act in unison on nuclear interests

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For the first time in history, Japan has agreed to develop weapons with a country other than the United States, proclaiming the agreement will strengthen bilateral defense cooperation, including joint weapons development.

Japan had established and publicly upheld a policy of not exporting any weapons because the pacifist Constitution prohibits the country from using the right of collective self-defense with other countries.

In more recent history, the central government has relaxed the policy in order to jointly develop weapons with the U.S., given the ever-increasing development costs of high-tech nuclear weapons and Japan’s snowballing national debt.

The United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to open up Britain’s nuclear industry to the Japanese nation on his first official visit to the country, and expressed hope that Japan will further promote use of civil nuclear energy, despite growing antinuclear sentiment in Japan over the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

The “U.K. expects Japan to continue to play an important role in nuclear safety, nonproliferation and peaceful use of nuclear energy globally,” a published statement said.

Japan is pushing to create a new international safety organization that will recognize “the importance of independent, competent, and rigorous regulation of nuclear safety and of enhanced emergency preparedness, according to the principles of continuous improvement and transparency and in line with IAEA safety standards.”

Japan and Britain also agreed to hold annual senior-level dialogue between government officials on nonmilitary nuclear technologies, focused on sharing expertise, experience and technology in the remediation, decontamination and decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear site,” the UK energy ministry said.

“Japanese companies’ technical expertise in new plant design and construction, and the UK’s decommissioning and waste-management experience and technology make civil nuclear co-operation particularly mutually beneficial.”

“British companies have significant expertise in nuclear decommissioning and clean-up, with 19 nuclear sites in the UK currently being managed through the process,” Cameron assured reporters.

The Nuclear Powers of Japan and United Kingdom

Japan used to claim to be one of the most fiercely anti-nuclear countries on the planet, with a Peace Constitution, multiple established non-nuclear principles, and a verbal commitment to nuclear disarmament; however recent policy and government action have brought much scrutiny to the island nation’s nuclear industry.

Japan’s nuclear history is long-scarred by its dependence on the United States, a poorly-founded nuclear safety standard, and most recent — actions after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The history of nuclear energy economics in the UK is equally complex. The once-mighty UK nuclear fleet, which at the beginning of the 1990s generated over 25% of the nations power, has fallen hard in more recent years.  The number of reactors operating dwindled while the share of the energy market controlled by nuclear energy declined to 19.3% by 2004 and approximately 16% by 2009.

As of 2012, the United Kingdom operates 19 nuclear reactors at 10 plants (seven advanced gas-cooled reactor, two Magnox and one pressurized water reactor), as well as a nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield.

The first Magnox reactors were not built for purely “peaceful” purposes, and later reactors faced delays which inflated costs.

The United Kingdom entered the nuclear energy development race early with gas graphite reactors, like those at Chernobyl.  The UK heavily subsidized the cost to utilities, although it greatly reduced the estimated cost of energy stemming from generating power for 13 of the first stations rendering artificially low estimates that did not represent true costs..

In 1978 the United Kingdom switched to light water reactor designs.

Costs have also been complicated by the lack of national strategy or policy for spent nuclear fuel.  Currently the UK has elected to develop and research technology related to reprocessing and short-term storage, with little thought invested in long-term storage plans.

Most of the UK’s higher-activity radioactive waste is currently held in temporary storage at Sellafield.

In 2006, the UK completed the sale of nuclear builder BNFL Westinghouse to a foreign conglomerate, against the advice of industry experts.  The sale was complete: the company, the designs, the licensing rights to the designs, everything.

That conglomerate was from, you guessed it, Japan.  Toshiba had to beat off competition from its local rival Mitsubishi and General Electric Company of America to acquire Westinghouse (which BNFL bought in 1999.

As a result, where the UK once claimed to lead the world in developing nuclear energy can now be seen trudging softly, cap in hand, to seek foreign expertise from Japan to build the proposed future for them.

Japan, the nation who cannot even restart its own reactors or bring the Fukushima disaster to a close, will be allowed, no encouraged, to sell the UK its own technology right back, and presumably for a profit.

Most would agree that the Westinghouse PWER reactor, which is a more accepted and cheaper design than the French Euro Pressurized reactor, would be a much more agreeable addition to the UK nuclear fleet, and concurrently all parties involved will try to save face.

However there are two reactors like the ones EDF wants for England are under construction in France and Finland, they are nearly half a decade late, and costing nearly twice as much as predicted.

The former head of EDF, François Rousseley, has recently suggested that the reactor design should be dropped, and the French National Audit Office has agreed, saying the plans are too “complex and expensive”.

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