National

NRA drops consolidation initiative for unwanted nuclear fuel after butting heads with JAEA

Kyodo

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has given up on its proposal to gather and store redundant nuclear material from throughout Japan at one common facility run by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, sources close to the matter said Saturday.

The watchdog had been discussing the idea with the state-backed JAEA but failed to reach a deal due largely to disagreements on cost, the sources said.

Most of the nuclear material targeted by the initiative is small quantities of fuel at around 1,200 universities, hospitals and other places. The owners of the material often try to get rid of it in order to avoid the accompanying safety and maintenance issues.

Japan is required to issue a report on its entire stock of nuclear material to the International Atomic Energy Agency because it can be diverted to make weapons.

If the materials are disbursed and lost while the government fails to secure facilities for storage or disposal, Japan will likely lose its credibility when it comes to atomic power, industry observers say.

According to the NRA, nuclear fuel was relatively accessible until around 1960, when their possession became restricted by law.

The material had been used in stains for electronic microscopes and in coating materials for ceramics.

One example is uranium.

There are around 1,800 entities in Japan holding up to 300 grams of either natural or depleted uranium, or up to 900 grams of thorium. The three types of material in possession were estimated to weigh 36-49 kg in total at the end of 2016.

Due to security issues, the NRA will not identify the owners’ names or locations.

Those who own larger amounts of nuclear fuel that require them to set up no-go zones or take other control measures to prevent unnecessary radiation exposure number 210. They are mostly manufacturers, electricity firms and universities. Their combined stock amounts to 122 tons of natural uranium and 4 tons of thorium.

The NRA has met with the JAEA more than 10 times since June 2015 to discuss ways of consolidating the redundant fuel for storage at a JAEA facility.

However, talks were suspended after February last year when the agency, based in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, said it had not received a reply from the NRA about its proposals on how to shoulder storage costs.

Tokai is also reluctant to accept such material.

An NRA survey covering the 1,800 holders of relatively small amounts of nuclear material showed that 1,100 of them, or about 80 percent, hope to transfer the fuel elsewhere because they have no use for it.

About half of the 210 holders of larger amounts of fuel similarly said they did not plan to use the material in the future due partly to the introduction of potential substitutes.