Leibstadt nuclear power plant is seen on

The fourth meeting of the U.S.-Japan Bilateral Commission on Civil Nuclear Cooperation (the Bilateral Commission) was held on November 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C., with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall and Japan’s Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs Shinsuke Sugiyama leading the discussions as Co-Chairs.  The delegations included participants representing a wide range of government agencies.

Established at the U.S.-Japan summit held in Washington, D.C., in April 2012, the Bilateral Commission serves as a standing senior-level forum to foster a comprehensive strategic dialogue and joint activities related to the safe and secure use of civil nuclear energy, advancing shared goals in the field of global nuclear nonproliferation and the response to the accident at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.

The Bilateral Commission coordinates the activities of five working groups, which cover the following subjects:

  • Nuclear security;
  • Civil nuclear energy research and development;
  • Safety and regulatory issues;
  • Emergency management; and
  • Decommissioning and environmental management.

At its meeting on November 4, each of the Working Groups reported on the status of its activities to the Bilateral Commission Co-Chairs. Both sides discussed the next steps for each Working Group and how to further enhance bilateral cooperation in each field.

With respect to nuclear security, the United States and Japan will work together to make the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit a success.  They reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the nuclear security posture of both countries and to reduce the threat that terrorists could acquire nuclear material.  The Nuclear Security Working Group (NSWG) reported on key activities undertaken since the third Bilateral Commission meeting, including technical meetings and exchanges, and capacity-building efforts.  The NSWG is also committed to continue its efforts beyond the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit.  In support of the March 2014 announcement at The Hague Nuclear Security Summit, the United States and Japan will continue to make utmost efforts to complete the timely removal of highly-enriched uranium and plutonium fuel from the Fast Critical Assembly to the United States.

On civil nuclear research and development, the United States and Japan reviewed the status of ongoing and planned joint research and development projects under the Civil Nuclear Energy Research and Development (R&D) Working Group (CNWG) in the areas of advanced reactor, light-water reactor (LWR), and fuel cycle and waste management, noting beneficial collaboration including in reactor materials, modeling, and advanced fuels.  The United States and Japan confirmed the expansion of their collaboration in the area of high temperature reactor R&D on such topics as the nuclear heat-driven gas turbine system.  Areas of possible new collaboration in the area of LWR R&D include material aging as well as advanced seismic probabilistic risk assessment.  The United States and Japan also committed to work together to lay the groundwork for a possible multilateral project to examine the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station to provide key safety data for the global nuclear community while minimizing impact on decommissioning and decontamination operations.  This bilateral planning effort will involve cooperation between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and they will keep the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan (NRA) informed as appropriate.

The United States congratulated Japan for its conclusion of the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage (CSC), which facilitated the entry into force of the CSC in April 2015.  This represents a major milestone toward establishing a global nuclear liability regime.  Both countries reaffirmed their commitment to work together to encourage other countries to join the CSC, especially countries in East Asia and the Pacific.

On nuclear safety and regulation, the United States and Japan discussed the status of ongoing regulatory cooperation between the NRC and the NRA.  Since the third Bilateral Commission meeting, NRC and NRA have held three Steering Committee Meetings (in Tokyo in December 2014, in Washington in March 2015, and in Tokyo in October 2015) to facilitate and prioritize collaboration between the two organizations.  The NRC and NRA highlighted recent exchanges, including a widely-attended April 2015 public workshop on regulatory aspects of decommissioning held in Tokyo, which included the participation of the NRC Chairman and two NRA Commissioners.  In addition, NRC and NRA discussed ongoing personnel exchanges between their organizations, including the placement of NRC’s first “foreign assignee” to Japan.  The United States and Japan confirmed their intention to enhance information sharing on the reactor oversight approaches and decommissioning, and confirmed plans for the next NRC-NRA Steering Committee Meeting, which will be held in the United States in March 2016.

On emergency management, both sides emphasized the mutual benefit of sharing approaches and lessons learned on nuclear emergency preparedness and response.  The United States and Japan will continue to exchange actions and best practices in ensuring effective emergency response, data monitoring and information systems, and whole-of-government management of complex disasters.  The Emergency Management Working Group (EMWG) will continue to reciprocally observe National-level nuclear emergency preparedness and response exercises, such as the 2014 National Drill in Shika and the “Southern Exposure 2015” exercise in South Carolina, in order to share practical approaches towards strengthening preparedness and response at all levels of government.  The United States looks forward to observing the November 2015 Nuclear Comprehensive Disaster Prevention Drill at the Ikata Nuclear Power Plant.

On decommissioning and environmental management, the United States and Japan committed to restructuring the Decommissioning and Environmental Management Working Group to further strengthen and establish a long-term strategic relationship on cooperation in environmental cleanup and decommissioning.  The United States committed to enhancing the involvement of national laboratories including through the initiation of a “U.S. National Laboratory Fukushima Support Network” and enhancing engagement with the U.S. Department of Commerce to promote U.S. – Japan industry decommissioning and environmental remediation partnerships.

DOE committed to continued and expanded collaboration and information sharing by its National Laboratories on environmental cleanup issues, including support for TEPCO in exploring alternatives to treatment and disposition of tritiated water, sharing DOE’s experience in working with stakeholders to obtain their support on cleanup objectives and end-states, and participation by Japan in the U.S. National Robotics Initiative.

DOE reaffirmed its support of the 1st International Fukushima Decommissioning Forum in April 2016, whose goal is to enhance and collect the knowledge and experience of the international community on the decommissioning of Fukushima.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Ministry of the Environment of Japan (MOE) reaffirmed the outcome announced at a policy dialogue between the EPA Administrator and the Minister of the Environment to interact and share remediation approaches and research results on the behavior of radioactive substances in the environment, exposure assessment, and the management of contaminated materials.  Agencies and laboratories on both sides will continue to work together to address technical clean-up issues at and around Fukushima. The EPA will continue to facilitate technical exchanges with subject matter experts to address many of Fukushima’s critical cleanup challenges, including pursuing collaborative research and exchanges on urban radiological incident response.

The United States and Japan recognized the importance of continued discussion on commercial civil nuclear cooperation.

The two sides reaffirmed their intention to continue bilateral cooperation in the advancement of shared nuclear nonproliferation objectives.  They also instructed the Working Groups to continue their efforts and report their outcomes to the next Bilateral Commission meeting to be held in Japan at a date to be decided upon in 2016.