The Cabinet formally approved on Feb. 4 a government plan to promote the so-called pluthermal process, which is aimed at reducing Japan’s excess stocks of plutonium.

In the pluthermal process, plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel is burned in light-water reactors, rather than being stored for future use in fast-breeder reactors. The Advisory Committee for Energy, in a report last month, said the pluthermal process will be a pillar in the nation’s nuclear fuel recycling policy for several decades to come.

It remains uncertain, however, whether the government’s plan will be accepted by Niigata, Fukushima or Fukui prefectures, the three proposed sites for the pluthermal projects. Public sentiment has been increasingly critical of the government’s nuclear policy since a major sodium leak at the Monju fast-breeder reactor in December 1995. Japan’s first fast-breeder reactor is located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture.

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