The Mongolian government told Japan government officials and others concerned in late September that it had decided to abandon its plans to cooperate with Tokyo and Washington and build facilities to temporarily store and dispose of nuclear waste, it was learned on Oct. 14. Mongolia appears to have judged the plan unfeasible because of opposition movements in the country.
It is the latest turn of events that underscores the difficulties in carrying out international projects to build nuclear waste storage facilities. A similar project was also abandoned in Australia in 2002 due to strong public backlash.
Negotiations on the Mongolian nuclear projects started when U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel B. Poneman visited Mongolia in September, 2010. Officials of Japan, the United States and Mongolia held their first round of talks on the projects in Washington in February this year. Then, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which wants to procure nuclear fuel from Mongolia, joined in the negotiations. In early July, Poneman sent a draft of an intergovernmental memorandum of understanding (MOU) to then-Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda in an effort to secure a deal by the end of this year.
The Mainichi reported on the secret talks between the three countries in May, but the Mongolian government has officially denied the existence of such negotiations. After the Mainichi’s report, Mongolian citizens harshly reacted to the envisioned projects and demanded the government withdraw the plans and disclose information. Following such developments, Mongolian President Tsakhia Elbegdorj issued a presidential order on Sept. 13 banning negotiating with foreign governments or international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on nuclear waste storage plans in Mongolia. Elbegdorj sacked government officials, including Ambassador A. Undraa, who had attended trilateral talks with the United States and Japan in Washington from Feb. 3 to 4 as representatives of Mongolia.
In the meantime, the Japanese government had told the U.S. Department of Energy that it was difficult to continue with the negotiations because it was busy dealing with the crisis at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant as well as public backlash.
According to a survey conducted by the IAEA, Mongolia has abundant resources of uranium estimated at 1.4 million metric tons. The Mongolian government was considering processing uranium into nuclear fuel and exporting it in an attempt to make good use of the uranium resources. For this purpose, Mongolia was exploring the idea of introducing “nuclear fuel lease contracts” in which Mongolia would receive spent nuclear fuel from countries that buy uranium nuclear fuel from Mongolia. The U.S. Department of Energy took the idea and came up with a proposal that Mongolia collect, store and dispose of spent nuclear fuel from other countries. Since then, the United States and Japan had been negotiating with Mongolia on the project.
Mongolia abandons nuclear waste storage plans, informs Japan of decision, Mainichi Japan, October 15, 2011