Mongolia to become nuclear waste site

In recent months, the press in Japan and the US has reported that Mongolia is negotiating with these countries to serve as a regional depository for spent nuclear fuel. The proposed plan would permit geographically constrained countries in the region, such as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, to dispose of their spent fuel in the spacious Central Asian state.

When the story first broke in March, the Mongolian Foreign Ministry was quick to dismiss the notion that Mongolia would host Asia’s nuclear waste. The statement went on to declare that Mongolia’s constitution prohibits the “import of dangerous waste to Mongolian territory”. The truth of these reports is still unknown. However, the suggestion of burying spent nuclear fuel in Mongolia has risen again. The Mainichi Daily News, the English site of Japan’s Mainichi Newspapers recently reported that the Draft accord describes Mongolia as the home for spent nuclear fuel.

A draft Japanese-US-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 July 18th.

The draft statement of intent between 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 of the fuel spent there on its own soil. The draft agreement mentions the role of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to potentially provide technical support to Mongolia in developing used fuel storage facilities.

The concept appears difficult to implement in light of the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, where the March tsunami caused a series of equipment failures, nuclear meltdowns and releases of radioactive materials in the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. However, hopes for such an initiative linger among those involved, including some private-sector firms.

Establishing a system to permanently dispose of spent nuclear fuel presents a significant challenge to countries intent on adopting atomic power. Even Japan and the United States, who have highly developed nuclear power structures, have yet to establish such a system.

At the same time, Japanese and US companies are eager to capitalise on the initiative as a possible deal-making solution as they market 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 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 US 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.

Mongolians overseas have created a Facebook group united against burying spent nuclear waste in Mongolia, which collects information about Mongolia and sends it to Green Party members worldwide. Alongside gathering information, they have addressed inquiries to Mongolian authorities, however have received no answer as yet. Pursuant to the latest Japanese report, the Mongolian Green Coalition has appealed to President Ts.Elbegdorj.

The following is an interview with L.Selenge, the head of the Green party:

Where did you receive the information about the plan to dispose of spent nuclear waste in Mongolia?

From the Japanese Mainichi newspaper which has recently verified the truth of the rumour which started last March. Mongolia’s destiny was probably decided during Naadam by corrupt Mongolian authorities. If the spent nuclear waste is buried on Mongolian soil, our country will soon become the world’s dumping ground. Green Party members call it a ‘dead point’- this is only a short term solution.

This information is based on newspaper reports but have you obtained information from any other sources?

We formally inquired about the credibility of their statement from the Mainichi newspaper authorities. They gave an official response confirming their honesty and will take full responsibility for the report, which we are inclined to accept because Mainichi is one of the most prestigious newspapers in Japan. Moreover, we are communicating with international Green Parties and according to this information, we suspect that the Mongolian authorities have given up their native land for a price. The government of Mongolia has denied the Mainichi account but if it is in fact fictitious, the Mongolian government has full rights to sue Mainichi for libel to rescue their reputation. Yet they have made no such move and have not even attempted to answer the letter demanding an explanation.

Whom on the Mongolian side do you suspect of planning to sign the draft?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in charge of this issue. The ambassador A.Undraa, who is responsible for nuclear concerns, has lived in the USA for many years and owns a green card. We suspect that a person who has resided in the States for a long time is culpable.

Have you asked the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for clarification? Do you have any further information?

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not responded. The draft is highly confidential and thus impossible to research further.

When it started to explore this matter the Green Coalition submitted an inquiry to the State Great Khural. Was an answer ever given?

An answer was never given. To clear themselves the Mongolian government must provide an answer officially and prove the falsity of the newspaper. But their silence continues. Consequently, we demanded that the President of Mongolia give an official response to the public on behalf of the government.

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