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Advancing Civil Nuclear Cooperation with Japan

July 3, 2014 - 4:10pm

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Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, right, and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy participate in last month's U.S.-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation. | Photo courtesy of the State Department.

Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman, right, and U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy participate in last month's U.S.-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation. | Photo courtesy of the State Department.

Editor's note: This post has been updated since publication.

In June, Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman traveled to Japan for the third meeting of the Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation (BLC). The BLC was launched by President Obama and Prime Minister Noda during their meeting in Washington in April 2012, recognizing that the need for a comprehensive, senior-level bilateral cooperation on nuclear dialogue issues had intensified in the wake of the tragic tsunami and ensuing nuclear accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station.

In addition to elevating U.S.-Japan nuclear cooperation to senior levels, the BLC expanded the bilateral nuclear agenda from the traditional areas of nonproliferation, security and civil nuclear cooperation to include nuclear safety, emergency response and environmental management. Deputy Foreign Minister Koro Bessho hosted the initial meeting of the BLC in Tokyo in July 2012, and Deputy Secretary Poneman hosted the second meeting in Washington in November 2013.

The third BLC was hosted by Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama. Both sides fielded interagency teams, given the wide-ranging issues under discussion. For the United States, in addition to DOE, this included representatives from the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The Japanese side included representatives from the Ministry of Energy, Trade, Technology and Industry (METI), the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the Ministry of the Environment, and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA).

Reflecting the importance of this dialogue to the overall US-Japan relationship, United States Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy participated in the BLC and addressed the opening session, stating that: “We have grown closer together in the area of nuclear cooperation since the inception of the Commission, discussing the trajectory of nuclear power programs in both of our countries, as well as strategies to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy globally, while emphasizing non-proliferation, security and safeguards, which are important and necessary elements for the expansion of nuclear power.”

Deputy Secretary Poneman followed her remarks, noting that: “In the United States we continue to believe that nuclear energy has an important role to play as a low-carbon source of baseload power, and an important role to play in our all-of-the-above approach to energy. We believe that pursuing a diverse mix of resources is the best way to achieve energy security. Like Prime Minister Abe, we have an all of the above strategy, and nuclear has an important role to play. As your nuclear program has gone through its trauma and travails, obviously we are deeply interested.”

During the third BLC meeting, the United States and Japan reviewed and reaffirmed partnerships and commitments with respect to nuclear security, research and development, safety and regulation, emergency response and decommissioning and environmental management.

In particular, Deputy Secretary Poneman welcomed the reaffirmation of Japan’s commitment to submit implementing legislation necessary to bring the Convention on Supplemental Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC) to the Japanese Diet this year. The CSC provides important liability protection necessary for U.S. companies to assist in the Fukushima decontamination and decommissioning activities now and in the years ahead. Once Japan enacts the necessary implementing legislation, it can complete its ratification of the CSC, thereby bringing this enhanced global protection for nuclear liability into force globally.

Deputy Secretary Poneman also welcomed Japan’s commitment to work with the United States to complete the  shipment of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium from the Fast Critical Assembly – one of the significant accomplishments of the March 2014 Nuclear Security Summit in the Hague.

In addition to the BLC meeting, Deputy Secretary Poneman held a series of bilateral discussions with senior Government of Japan officials, including METI Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, Senior Vice Foreign Minister Norio Mitsuya, MEXT Senior Vice Minister Yoshitaka Sakurada, Japan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Yoshiaki Oka, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka, Senior Vice Environment Minister Shinju Inoue, and Japan Atomic Energy Agency President, and Japan Nuclear Safety Institute Chairman Shojiro Matsuura.

Following the Commission meeting, Deputy Secretary Poneman and and the DOE team visited the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station site to observe the progress made toward decommissioning and clean-up. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) provided Deputy Secretary Poneman and team with information on its strategies for containing and managing contaminated water on-site, and its strategies for decommissioning of Units 1-4. During the visit, Deputy Secretary Poneman and team observed progress toward removing the used fuel from Unit 4, and visited the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) facility. The team also received briefings on cesium removal from contaminated water, which is being provided by the U.S. company, Kurion.

At the end of the tour, Deputy Secretary Poneman met with members of TEPCO’s Fukushima Dai-ichi management and workforce, and thanked them for their tireless and courageous efforts to respond to the Fukushima tragedy and their dedication to TEPCO’s decommissioning activities on-site. During the meeting, Deputy Secretary Poneman underlined that the United States will continue to act as a friend and partner to Japan, helping in the massive clean-up task and urging joint efforts in the development of improved decontamination technologies.

The events of March 11, 2011, will never be forgotten, and we must continue to honor the memory of those who lost their lives in that tragedy. We must learn and apply all of the lessons of the Fukushima nuclear accident in order for nuclear energy to continue to play a vital role in the transformation to a low-carbon energy future. Success in this endeavor will require decades of investment and hard work, and the continued emphasis on a safety culture and practices that will assure that nuclear power can continue to be generated safely in the years to come. The BLC has contributed to this effort. Both sides agreed to reconvene the group in Washington to advance that work in support of global efforts to reduce dangerous air pollution in a safe and sustainable manner.

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