Japan officials considering move to become reprocessing center for spent nuclear fuel generated across Asia

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Japanese reports show that government officials are being lobbied to begin reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from Korea, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, as it would “strengthen” Japan’s diplomacy, security and the country’s economy as well as “contribute to the peaceful use of atomic energy.”   A report  generated by an advisory council to the DPJ party last May, suggests using the Rokkasho nuclear reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture as a reprocessing facility for spent fuel from all over Asia for decades to come, regardless if Japan elects to shut down all of its own nuclear power plants.

In Korea, spent fuel is stored in temporary storage facilities on-site at nuclear power plants, but it is estimated that Korea’s spent fuel storage capacity will be completely overwhelmed by 2016, and the Korean government has shown interest in the possibility of reprocessing and enriching their uranium supply.

In response to the news of the report, Korean officials assured the press that they were not considering Japan as a resource for reprocessing its spent nuclear fuel, inferring that this had only been another last ditch effort by Japans officials to “look for silver lining,” no matter what the reality may be.  In November, a brochure produced by the operator of the Rokkasho plant still claimed that Japan hoped to expand its use of MOX fuel in as many as 18 reactors by 2015, although the chances of 18 reactors actually being restarted and brought back online by 2015, are nearly as bad as the chances of the Japanese public allowing the expanded use of MOX fuel at more nuclear reactors.  Since 2009, only 4 nuclear reactors have burned MOX fuel, one of which melted down at Fukushima Daiichi.

The nuclear village and government officials have been working hard to deflect criticism that the Japanese nuclear fuel cycle plans are a complete waste of money, as neither the Monju fast breeder reactor nor the Rokkasho facility has been able to overcome frequent malfunctions and delays. In December 2012, geomorphology professors from Tokyo University pointed out that part of a known active earthquake fault runs directly under the Rokkasho plant.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said.”Even if we operate Rokkasho, there is more spent fuel coming out (produced by nuclear reactors in Japan) than it can process. It’s just out of balance.”

Currently the Rokkasho facility only stores nuclear fuel from Japanese nuclear power plants, but over 3,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel is stored at the Rokkasho facility, which would have to be returned to the nuclear power plants that generated it if the facility were closed, and no space is currently available to safely store it, as the spent fuel pools at Japanese nuclear facilities are on average 70% filled.

The Japanese have a bilateral nuclear energy pact with the United States, which allows Japan to reprocess spent fuel rods through 2018, when the agreement would need to be renewed, and the United States could revise the agreements and prohibit Japan from further reprocessing.  Japan already has enough plutonium stockpiled to create hundreds of nuclear bombs, which with Japan’s current stance on nuclear weapons, is only becoming more and more of a proliferation and safety risk to keep in temporary storage.

Source: Chosun

Source: YonHap News

Source: The Japan Times

Source: Phys.Org

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