• Kyodo

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A nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, resumed operations Monday after having been closed since a fire and explosion in March 1997.

Workers at the plant of the state-run Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, about 120 km northeast of Tokyo, began reprocessing uranium solution taken from a fuel plant of JCO Co., also in the same village, officials of the institute said.

Next Monday, the plant will start reprocessing spent nuclear fuel from the advanced thermal reactor Fugen in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, and the reprocessing is expected to be completed by Dec. 19, the officials said.

The Tokai facility was at the center of Japan’s nuclear reprocessing operations until the March 1997 accident, which exposed 37 workers to high levels of radiation.

That accident was the nation’s worst until Sept. 30, 1999, when a nuclear criticality accident at the JCO plant killed two employees and exposed at least 438 people to higher-than-normal levels of radiation.

The Nuclear Safety Commission, the Science and Technology Agency, and the Ibaraki nuclear safety commission had already cleared the Tokai fuel reprocessing plant to resume operations. However, permission was revoked following the accident at the JCO plant.

The Ibaraki prefectural and Tokai village governments gave the green light Nov. 10 after the plant confirmed the adoption of safety measures requested by the village.

But a local citizens’ group against nuclear plants in the area opposes the resumption because authorities have not made public the analytical results of the uranium solution in the JCO plant, and the reprocessing will destroy the evidence of the JCO accident.

Yoichiro Kishimoto, chief of the Tokai plant of the institute, said he is grateful for the reopening of the facility and stressed the need for closer communication with the local community and residents.

Monju gets backing

A task force of the Atomic Energy Commission on Monday reaffirmed its desire to see Japan’s prototype fast-breeder reactor Monju, in Fukui Prefecture, resume operations as swiftly as possible and stay in operation for at least 20 years.

The restart of Monju, which has been closed since a massive coolant leakage occurred in December 1995, was included in the final draft of the government’s long-term plan on research and development of nuclear power.

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