A member of the Atomic Energy Commission said Tuesday that spent nuclear fuel reprocessing should be implemented only when it becomes clear that plutonium extracted in the process will be used for commercial reactors.
The proposal was made after major utilities gave up on devising a plan by the end of the month on how to use the roughly 0.4 ton of fissile plutonium that is to be extracted via reprocessing during the next fiscal year, given uncertainty over the resumption of nuclear reactors.
“Under the current sequence, first a reprocessing plan is submitted and then where to use plutonium is considered . . . and that leads to an increase in stocks,” Tatsujiro Suzuki, vice chairman of the commission, said during a meeting Tuesday.
“I think prospects on the use (of plutonium) should be made clear and reprocessing should be conducted based on those prospects. By sticking to this idea, reprocessing would be limited to the amount that is necessary,” he said.
Noting it is unclear whether utilities can achieve their current goal of burning fuel containing plutonium in 16 to 18 reactors, Suzuki also said that consumption of plutonium should be considered more flexibly, such as by exchanging plutonium between companies.
Keeping stockpiles of plutonium without making clear their use could invite criticism from the international community because the material can be diverted for use in nuclear weapons.
The government has upheld a policy of reprocessing spent uranium fuel and reusing the extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel. The recovered material is made into plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX, for “pluthermal” power generation.
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. expects to reprocess about 80 tons of spent fuel in fiscal 2013 by starting up its fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. The process will produce about 2 tons of MOX, which would include about 0.4 ton of fissile plutonium.
The commission has called on utilities to announce plans for the use of extracted plutonium every fiscal year to ensure transparency, but they have failed to meet the March 31 deadline because prospects remain unclear on reactors’ resumption amid lingering concerns over nuclear power.
Of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors, only two re currently online.