Safety check of Rokkasho nuke facility sought

Kyodo

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. said Thursday it plans to have its troubled fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, undergo a state safety assessment Jan. 7 so it can be brought online.

The company hopes to receive permission to run the plant by next October, before seeking local consent for actual operations.

Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has said he cannot tell how long the Rokkasho safety assessment will take. It will be the NRA’s first inspection of a spent-fuel reprocessing plant since new safety rules took effect on Dec. 18.

Under the new standards, spent-fuel reprocessing facilities must take steps to respond to severe emergencies, including criticality situations and hydrogen explosions. They are also required to improve resistance to quakes and other natural disasters.

Japan Nuclear Fuel started building the Rokkasho plant in 1993 and a trial run was launched in March 2006. Its completion has been repeatedly postponed by problems, including leaks of highly radioactive liquid waste.

The safety review is expected to draw attention as the plant is tasked with playing a key role in Japan’s fuel recycling policy, which is aimed at reprocessing spent uranium fuel and reusing the extracted plutonium and uranium for reactor fuel.

Japan, the only nonnuclear weapons state in the world working on a commercial fuel-reprocessing project, claims it adheres to the principle of not maintaining excessive plutonium stockpiles. But it now has 44 tons — enough for 5,000 nuclear bombs.