Lack of transfer sites for 610 tons of spent fuel might delay closure plans for seven reactors


About 610 tons of spent nuclear fuel stored at seven of the 17 reactors in Japan scheduled to be decommissioned have no place to be buried, it was learned Sunday, threatening to hold up the decommissioning process.

If the question of where to transfer the spent nuclear fuel remains unanswered, the dismantling of the reactor buildings and other structures at each facility may not be carried out as planned.

The tally excludes the six reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, which was heavily damaged by the triple core meltdowns in March 2011. That plant is run by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.

The seven reactors are Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Fugen advanced converter reactor, the Monju, its experimental fast-breeder reactor prototype, reactor 1 at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga plant, reactors 1 and 2 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant, reactor 1 at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane plant, and reactor 1 at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai plant, according to the companies and the agency.

The Fugen reactor has 70 tons of spent mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel, a blend of uranium and weapons-grade plutonium recycled from spent nuclear fuel. But Japan Atomic has abandoned plans to remove the spent MOX this fiscal year and is considering having it reprocessed overseas instead.

Its goal of finish the decommissioning work by fiscal 2033 remains unchanged, but an official admitted that the timetable will be affected if a decision isn’t made on where to take it.

As for the trouble-prone Monju, Japan Atomic has yet to submit a decommissioning program to the authorities, and how to deal with the reactor’s 22 tons of spent MOX fuel remains a major issue.

The Mihama No. 1 reactor meanwhile has 75.7 tons of spent conventional nuclear fuel and 1.3 tons of spent MOX, while the No. 2 reactor has 202 tons of spent conventional fuel. Kansai Electric plans to remove all of it from Fukui Prefecture, which hosts the power plant, by fiscal 2035 but has no place to put it.

At the Tsuruga plant’s No. 1 reactor 1, Japan Atomic Power plans to transfer 31.1 tons of the reactor’s 50 tons of spent nuclear fuel to the storage pool of reactor 2, with the rest to be taken by fiscal 2026 to a Japan Nuclear Fuel reprocessing plant still under construction in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture.

After being postponed more than 20 times, the completion of the reprocessing plant is currently slated for the first half of fiscal 2018, and the blueprint is undergoing screenings by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Since nuclear fuel cannot be brought into the reprocessing plant until it acquires all regulatory approvals, it is uncertain whether the Tsuruga reactor fuel can be transferred as planned.

Chugoku Electric aims to transfer 122.7 tons of spent nuclear fuel at its Shimane plant’s reactor 1 to the Rokkasho reprocessing plant by fiscal 2029.

Kyushu Electric hopes to take 97.2 tons of spent nuclear fuel at the Genkai plant’s reactor 1 out of its fuel pool by fiscal 2029, but a destination has not been decided.

At three other nuclear plants with reactors set to be decommissioned, spent nuclear fuel is mostly planned to be moved out of their current pools to other pools in the same plant.

In the case of Tepco’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 plant, the site of the 2011 triple core meltdown, where to move its 2,130 tons of spent nuclear fuel has also not yet been decided.

Still, the decommissioning work for the six reactors there will not be affected in any significant way for the time being, as more urgent tasks, such as surveys to locate the melted fuel, have been given higher priority, officials said.