Japan Atomic Energy Agency approved to operate research reactor under post-Fukushima rules

Kyodo

A Japan Atomic Energy Agency research reactor cleared a regulatory safety review on Wednesday, becoming the first facility run by the government-affiliated research institute to pass post-Fukushima regulations.

The reactor, which is located in Ibaraki Prefecture and called the Static Experiment Critical Facility, gained approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority to resume operations and will be used to conduct research on the extraction of melted fuel from nuclear plants.

The facility still needs to go through several final checks under new rules introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

The approval came after the JAEA responded to a request made in November by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a government nuclear panel, to clarify the purposes of storing plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX fuel, at the reactor.

Japan, while upholding a policy of reprocessing spent fuel from nuclear reactors and reusing extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel, adopts a policy of not possessing plutonium — a material that can be used to make nuclear weapons — without a specified purpose.

In a document, the agency said it will not use MOX fuel “other than for peaceful purposes,” winning approval from the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.

According to the JAEA, the reactor will be used to conduct research on the removal of melted nuclear fuel in an effort to support the decommissioning of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex, which experienced core meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

The JAEA previously came under heavy criticism for lax safety management following revelations of a number of equipment inspection failures at its Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor. The prototype had been envisioned to play a key role in the country’s nuclear fuel recycling policy but is now set to be scrapped.

In June of last year, a nuclear exposure accident occurred at the institution’s Oarai Research and Development Center in Ibaraki, causing internal radiation exposure in five workers, although no harmful consequences were detected in the surrounding environment.