A panel at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry decided Monday to propose creating a new body to strengthen the government’s involvement in nuclear fuel reprocessing operations.
The panel, a fuel-recycling study group, suggested that the new entity should consign reprocessing operations at a facility in northern Japan to the current plant operator, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which is designed to play a key role in Japan’s fuel recycling policy.
The government will finalize the plan after hearing public comments and seek to submit a bill to revise related laws to the Diet next year.
The launch of the spent fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has been postponed 23 times since Japan Nuclear Fuel, which was set up by nine regional power producers and others, started building it in 1993, due to a series of problems, including leakage of high-level radioactive waste liquid.
Under the framework proposed by the panel, utilities would also be mandated to make financial contributions to the new entity to shoulder the reprocessing costs and help maintain its financial strength to continue reprocessing regardless of the utilities’ business conditions.
At present, power companies set aside reserves to be used for reprocessing, but such reserves could become unusable if the utilities go bankrupt.
The deregulation of the retail electricity market beginning in April is likely to spark fierce competition among power producers, which may decrease their earnings.
Under national policy, fuel used in nuclear power plants is to be recycled by reprocessing it into mixed-oxide fuel, to be used again both in fast-breeder reactors — which are designed to produce more plutonium than they consume — and at many other reactors.
After all reactors were shuttered following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, two units resumed operations this year, and the government aims to generate at least 20 percent of the nation’s overall electricity with nuclear power in 2030 to cut greenhouse gas emissions and lower fuel costs.
The latest reorganization plan for reprocessing operations comes also as the outlook for the government’s nuclear policy has dimmed further after the nuclear regulatory body recently urged the government to pick a new operator to run the troubled Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor.