Japans regulators establish screening items for reprocessing plant

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Members of the Nuclear Regulation Authority in Japan are encouraging officials of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited to explain how they have readied the Rokkasho reprocessing facility for disasters and accidents.

The Rokkasho Reprocessing plant consists of nearly 40 buildings, including a nuclear waste monitoring facility, a MOX fuel fabrication plant, a uranium enrichment plant, and a radioactive waste landfill.  In 2008, experts disclosed that the Rokkasho facility is sited directly above an active geological fault.

Regulators are interested in establishing a better understanding of the underground structures and information related to a potential offshore fault.

Japan Nuclear Fuel will also have to explain how it reviewed its estimates for earthquake and volcano activities following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and the government’s new safety guidelines.

Some of the problems that Rokkasho faces are unlike typical nuclear power generation stations.  There are disasters like fires, explosions, chemical leaks, among others, which are much more hazardous at a reprocessing facility.

The licensee has told the media that it hopes to have the reprocessing facility ready for operation by October of 2014, but it remains to be seen if regulators will have finished their safety screenings by that time.

Even if the Rokkasho facility was brought online, it would still be unable to keep up with the waste generated by the nuclear reactors in Japan.  The facility already hosts more than 3,000 tons of spent fuel in its spent fuel pols, which are already 95% full.

If the Rokkasho plant were to be closed, it would be forced to return the nuclear waste it currently stores back to the Japanese utilities which produced it, but spent fuel pools at nuclear power stations in Japan are already 70% full on average.

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