National

Safety checks of trouble-prone nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori to resume

Kyodo

Nuclear regulators on Wednesday decided to resume assessing the safety of a spent fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture after suspending the process for several months following revelations about the operator’s lax safety management.

Clearing the safety checks is a requirement for Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. to start operating its plant in the village of Rokkasho. It was originally scheduled for completion in 1997, but the timeline has been pushed back 24 times. The facility has been slated to play a key role in the nation’s nuclear fuel recycling policy.

What would be the country’s first commercial nuclear reprocessing plant is designed to handle up to 800 tons of spent nuclear fuel per year, extracting about 8 tons of plutonium to re-use as nuclear fuel.

Japan Nuclear Fuel applied for the state safety assessment in 2014, seeking to meet tougher standards introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster that was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

But in August last year, about 800 liters of rainwater was found to have seeped into a building housing key emergency power sources because the operator had failed to notice that equipment to keep the building watertight was aging. The equipment had not been checked for about 14 years.

The findings led the Nuclear Regulation Authority to level harsh criticism at the safety management record of Japan Nuclear Fuel. The review process was halted in October, with the operator saying it will prioritize inspections of all facilities at the plant.

The company’s latest timeline had aimed for the plant to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2018, but it said in December that it will push back the schedule by three more years.