New rules for spent fuel reprocessing in effect

Kyodo

Tougher safety standards were introduced Wednesday for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plants and other facilities handling nuclear fuel, based on the lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The new regulations cover 247 facilities, including a spent fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

The problem-prone plant, which is expected to play a key role in Japan’s fuel recycling strategy, is designed to reprocess spent uranium fuel and reuse the extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.

Plant operator Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. plans to apply soon for the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety checks to start the long-delayed process of getting the plant in operation.

Under the new standards, spent fuel reprocessing facilities and nuclear fuel fabrication plants will be required to take steps to deal with criticality incidents, hydrogen explosions and other severe situations that could result in the release of radioactive material.

The facilities will also be required to enhance their safeguards against earthquakes and tsunami, the direct causes of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.

Universities and research institutions with reactors will also be required to reinforce measures against natural disasters, and prepare evacuation procedures for researchers and others visiting the site.

The move is the latest in a series of regulation revisions carried out by the NRA after the Fukushima crisis revealed Japan’s safety requirements to be ineffective.

The Rokkasho plant was initially expected to be completed before 2011, when the Fukushima crisis started, but a series of problems, including leakage of high-level radioactive waste liquid, has delayed the schedule.

Japan Nuclear Fuel says the facility is designed to reprocess 800 tons of spent fuel per year, extracting about 8 tons of plutonium in the process.