Policy panel member calls for withdrawal from reprocessing all spent fuel

Kyodo

A member of a government panel on nuclear policy is calling for an end to the goal of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel, citing uncertainties over the practical use of fast-breeder reactors, a key component of the plan.

“It’s better to clarify the stance to withdraw from total reprocessing. Regardless of the scale of the atomic power (generation), I could not find positive rationality to proceed with (the option of seeking reprocessing),” Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, said Tuesday during a meeting of the commission.

Suzuki made the remarks, which he described as only his personal view, after reporting the outcome of a subcommittee’s discussions about Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy.

The government is reviewing the entire energy strategy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.

The subcommittee, chaired by Suzuki, said in its report that pursuing reprocessing and the direct disposal of spent fuel at the same time would be the “most superior” option if the scale of reliance on nuclear power remains “uncertain.”

The report also says that reprocessing all spent fuel would be the most attractive goal in terms of saving resources, if the reliance on nuclear power continues at the current rate or is expanded, and directly disposing of all spent fuel underground would be the cheapest if the reliance on nuclear power is completely ended in the near term.

Suzuki said he personally thinks the option of pursuing reprocessing and direct disposal concurrently is “reasonable at present,” adding that efforts to achieve direct fuel disposal should start as quickly as possible.

Shunsuke Kondo, chairman of the five-member commission, said he would like to have members discuss the content of the subcommittee’s report.

The discussions are expected to serve as fodder for a government panel tasked with deciding national energy policy.

The prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju is considered a key component to achieve the nuclear fuel cycle policy, in which uranium and plutonium extracted from spent fuel would be reused as reactor fuel.

But progress has been sluggish, even though more than ¥1 trillion has been spent for Monju’s maintenance and construction.