Rokkasho plant seeks screening

JIJI

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. filed Tuesday for regulatory safety screening of its spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, whose completion has been delayed more than 20 times.

The company aims to complete the plant in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, by October, expecting safety tests overseen by the Nuclear Regulation Authority will finish in about six months.

The company is determined to do whatever it can to ensure the screening goes smoothly, Senior Executive Vice President Kazuhiro Matsumura said.

The NRA last month drew up new safety standards for key facilities used in the country’s nuclear fuel cycle, such as fuel reprocessing plants.

Under the new rules, operators of these facilities must take steps to ensure they can deal with major crises caused by events such as earthquakes, tsunami and terrorist attacks.

The operators are also required to take a stricter approach in research to determine whether faults running near or directly under their facilities are active. Earlier reports suggested this may be the case.

Japan Nuclear Fuel previously planned to finish construction of the plant by last October, but it put off the planned completion by about a year to meet the new standards.

The company, owned mainly by the nation’s power companies, is taking the required steps, such as reinforcement work to make buildings safer against quakes and the introduction of movable pumps, water discharge systems and watertight doors.

The plant, a core component of Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle, extracts uranium and plutonium from spent fuel generated at nuclear power stations. Its maximum annual capacity stands at 800 tons of uranium equivalents.

High-level radioactive liquid waste arising from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel will be solidified by mixing it into glass. The firm plans to hold the vitrified radioactive waste for a limited period, but no clear plan has been decided on for a final disposal site for the waste, and public opposition to such a site is strong.

The ¥2.2 trillion plant has seen its scheduled completion date moved back as many as 20 times due to a number of reasons.

Initially, the plant was slated to be completed in 1997, four years after construction started.

It is uncertain whether the NRA can complete its safety screening of the plant in six months as expected.

The NRA has been busy with safety screening tests for nuclear power stations, research into faults under nuclear plants and responing to the catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station.