Waste Management

Japan / Regulator Says Rokkasho Has Passed Safety Checks

By David Dalton
13 May 2020

Fuel reprocessing plant scheduled to go online in 2021
Regulator Says Rokkasho Has Passed Safety Checks
The Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant. Photo courtesy Japan Atomic Industrial Forum.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday said the Rokkasho fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture, northeast Japan, has passed safety checks, bringing it a step closer to beginning operations after more than two decades in limbo.

The facility is designed to take spent fuel from reactors and extract uranium and plutonium that can be reused, playing a key role in the country’s nuclear fuel recycling policy.

The NRA said the plant had cleared tougher standards introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi accident, including requirements for more robust measures against earthquakes and tsunami. It set a one-month period to solicit feedback from industry minister Hiroshi Kajiyama and other parties.

Construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant began in 1993 and was originally expected to be completed by 1997. However, its construction and commissioning have faced several delays.

According to the Japan Times the schedule has been pushed back 23 times by a number of technical and safety issues.

Most recently, it was found in 2017 that operator Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd had failed to carry out necessary inspections on an area of the plant for 14 years, resulting in nearly one tonne of rainwater pouring into a building housing an emergency diesel generator.

The reprocessing plant is part of a larger nuclear fuel cycle R&D facility that includes plants for enrichment, recycling and the production of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel.

When it opens, the plant will be able to process up to 800 tonnes of spent fuel per year and extract about eight tonnes of plutonium, which will be used to produce a mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. Press reports in Japan said the facility has cost nearly $130bn.

The plant still needs to receive final approval from the NRA to come online, with Japan Nuclear Fuel hoping to begin operations between April and September of next year.

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