Nowhere to use Japan’s growing plutonium stockpile – Japan Today
“….Giving up on using plutonium for power would cause Japan to break its international pledge not to possess excess plutonium not designated for power generation. That’s why Japan’s nuclear phase-out plan drew concern from Washington; the country would end up with tons of plutonium left over. To reassure Japan’s allies, government officials said the plan was only a goal, not a commitment….”
By Mari Yamaguchi
NATIONAL DEC. 30, 2012 – 07:00AM JST
How is an nuclear-powered island nation riddled with fault lines supposed to handle its nuclear waste? Part of the answer was supposed to come from this windswept village along Japan’s northern coast.
By hosting a high-tech facility that would convert spent fuel into a plutonium-uranium mix designed for the next generation of reactors, Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture was supposed to provide fuel while minimizing nuclear waste storage problems. Those ambitions are falling apart because years of attempts to build a “fast breeder” reactor, which would use the reprocessed fuel, appear to be ending in failure.
There is scant prospect for building a long-term nuclear waste disposal site in Japan.
If Japan decided that it cannot use the plutonium, it would be breaking international pledges aimed at preventing the spread of weapons-grade nuclear material. It already has enough plutonium to make hundreds of nuclear bombs — 10 tons of it at home and the rest in Britain and France, where Japan’s spent fuel was previously processed.
“Our nuclear policy was a fiction,” former National Policy Minister Seiji Maehara told a parliamentary panel in November. “We have been aware of the two crucial problems. One is a fuel cycle: A fast-breeder is not ready. The other is the back-end (waste disposal) issue. They had never been resolved, but we pushed for the nuclear programs anyway.” -Seiji Maehara
Construction at Rokkasho’s reprocessing plant started in 1993 and that unit alone has cost 2.2 trillion yen so far. Rokkasho’s operational cost through 2060 would be a massive 43 trillion yen, according to a recent government estimate.
The prototype Monju fast-breeder reactor in western Japan had been in the works for nearly 50 years, but after repeated problems, authorities this summer pulled the plug, deeming the project unworkable and unsafe.
The fourth reactor that used MOX was among the reactors that melted down. Plant and government officials deny that the reactor explosion was related to MOX.
Meanwhile, the plutonium stockpile grows. Including the amount not yet separated from spent fuel, Japan has nearly 160 tons. Few countries have more, though the U.S., Russia and Great Britain have substantially more.
“It’s so unfair that Rokkasho is stuck with the nuclear garbage from all over Japan,” she said, walking through a field where she had harvested organic rhubarb. “We’re dumping it all onto our offspring to take care of.” -Keiko Kikukawa
Nearly 17,000 tons of spent fuel are stored at power plants nationwide, almost entirely in spent fuel pools. Their storage space is 70% filled on average. Most pools would max out within several years if Rokkasho were to close down, forcing spent fuel to be returned, according to estimates by a government fuel-cycle panel.
“Even if we operate Rokkasho, there is more spent fuel coming out than it can process. It’s just out of balance,” -Shunichi Tanaka
“There is too much risk to keep highly radioactive waste 300 meters underground anywhere in Japan for thousands or tens of thousands of years,” said Takatoshi Imada
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