The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry

Monju: the failing nuclear reprocessing dream

Nuclear Holy Grail Slips Away From Japan With Operator Elusive  sstapczynski  

  • Japan to pick a new operator for Monju fast-breeder reactor
  • The prototype plant has cost more than $9 billion amid delays

Japan is missing its own deadline to find a new operator for a prototype nuclear power program that’s failed to succeed in the two decades since it was built, threatening the resource-poor country’s support of a technology other nations have abandoned.


The country’s nuclear regulator demanded in November a replacement for the government-backed Japan Atomic Energy Agency be found within six months for the Monju fast-breeder reactor. Monju, which has functioned for less than a year since its completion more than 20 years ago, now faces the possibility of being scrapped.

The so-called fast-breeder reactor — a cornerstone of its atomic energy strategy dating back to the 1950s — uses spent nuclear fuel from other plants and is designed to produce more atomic fuel that it consumes. The reactor, named after the Buddhist deity of wisdom, has cost the nation more than 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) and has barely operated since it first generated electricity in 1995.

 “The potential closure of Monju would be a major blow not just to the fast-breeder community in Japan, but also those supporting reprocessing of spent fuel,” M. V. Ramana, a professor at Princeton University’s Nuclear Futures Laboratory, said by e-mail. “I wonder if the government will allow Monju to be shut down? I would expect that they will simply create a new agency to oversee Monju.”

1950s Strategy

Monju is currently operated by the JAEA, a quasi-government organization that is under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. JAEA declined to comment. The nation’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, didn’t respond to e-mailed questions regarding the status of Monju.

“We don’t have plans to decommission the reactor,” said Hiroki Takaya, director of the ministry’s International Nuclear and Fusion Energy Affairs Division, which oversees Monju. “We are exploring many different options for who will operate the reactor — either a new entity or an existing company.”

The NRA said in November the science ministry must find a new operator or consider closure. The ministry drafted a set of criteria for a new operator, but have yet to name a replacement, it said on May 27. The ministry hopes to find an operator as soon as possible, but hasn’t set a concrete deadline.

 “These turn out to be very expensive technologies to build,” Allison MacFarlane, a former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said by e-mail. “Many countries have tried over and over. What is truly impressive is that these many governments continue to fund a demonstrably failed technology.”

June 1, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | 1 Comment

Nuclear industry up to their old tricks, spruiking “new nuclear”

Thorium reactors Some enthusiasts prefer fueling reactors with thorium – an element 3x as abundant as uranium but even more uneconomic to use. India has for decades failed to commercialize breeder reactors to exploit its thorium deposits.

But thorium can’t fuel a reactor by itself: rather, a uranium- or plutonium-fueled reactor can convert thorium-232 into fissionable (and plutonium-like, highly bomb-usable) uranium-233. Thorium’s proliferation [8], waste, safety, and cost problems differ only in detail from uranium’s: e.g., thorium ore makes less mill waste, but highly radioactive U-232 makes fabricating or reprocessing U-233 fuel hard and costly.


‘New’ nuclear reactors? Same old story, Ecologist, Amory Lovins 12th April 2016 The nuclear industry is forever reinventing itself with one brilliant ‘new’ idea after another, Amory Lovins wrote in this classic 2009 essay. But whether it’s touting the wonders of future SMRs, IFRs or LFTRs, the reality never changes: the reactors they are building right now are over time, over budget and beset by serious, entirely unforeseen technical problems….. Continue reading

April 15, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing, technology, thorium | Leave a comment

USA Energy Dept moving away from dangerous MOX nuclear fuel plan

MOXRadioactive Pork Finally on the Chopping Block Project On Government Oversight.  By: Lydia Dennett 9 Feb 16 A “Sensitive But Unclassified” document from the Secretary of Energy, obtained by the Project On Government Oversight, indicates that the Department is concerned that parochial interests in Congress may thwart their plans to kill the MOX program.

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX) is the result of a bilateral agreement with Russia in which both countries agreed to dispose of 34 metric tons of nuclear weapons grade plutonium. In 2002 the U.S. decided to construct the MOX facility to convert this dangerous material into fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors. But now, 14 years later, the MOX program is almost 3,000 percent over budget, lacks even a single potential customer for the fuel, and could actually be putting our nuclear material at risk.

The November 2015 memorandum from Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz to President Obama states that MOX is a “high-priority ‘hot potato’ issue” for this Congress and indicates that the Department is finally beginning to shift focus and funding away from MOX and toward a plutonium disposition process that will actually work: “We are working with our appropriators and other stakeholders to shift our plutonium disposition strategy from MOX power reactor fuel to dilution and underground disposal. This is much faster and cheaper.”

Last year, an independent study performed by the Aerospace Corporation confirmed that the cost of finishing construction of MOX and operating the plant for the next 20 years will be at least $47.5 billion and could be as much as $114 billion depending on annual funding from Congress. That would be in addition to the $5 billion already spent on the project. MOX was originally expected to cost a mere $1.6 billion.

Despite the project’s long history of skyrocketing costs, safety and security concerns, and construction problems, it has been kept alive in large part by political officials who have an interest in making sure funding for the project continues.

Problems with the MOX program were first raised in the early 2000s by then-Representative David Hobsen (R-OH), who was serving as Chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee at the time. His efforts to halt construction of the MOX facility were stalled in 2006 due to pressure from the Department of Energy, the Administration, and his own party.He was told that canceling the project would hurt then-South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford’s chances of being reelected.

In 2013, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC)placed a hold on the president’s nomination for Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz until Moniz promised to finish the MOX plant. Graham eventually relented and removed the hold but remains one of the most outspoken supporters for the project along with Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) and Representative Rick Allen (R-GA).

Representatives Wilson and Allen recently denounced the dilution and underground disposal method, which would involve mixing the weapons grade plutonium with other materials before sending it to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an underground repository in New Mexico. The Aerospace Corporation found that this method would cost $17 billion over its lifetime as opposed to the $47.5 billion needed to complete the MOX project.

The Center for Public Integrity has previously detailed the long history of lobbying and campaign donations to the South Carolina members by large companies with a financial interest in the MOX project. Many of these same officials bill themselves as budget hawks, committed to limited federal spending while, at the same time, supporting this multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

Secretary Moniz’s November memo to the president references this difficult history. “While Senate appropriators agree with us, the House appropriators are concerned about alienating the South Carolina delegation.”

One of the concerns raised by Representative Wilson and others is that moving away from the MOX strategy will require re-opening negotiations with Russia, something Wilson told the Nuclear Security and Deterrence Monitor (behind a paywall) “the U.S. should avoid.” Although the Energy Department acknowledges that US-Russia relations are “complicated,” Moniz’s memo confirms that the Energy Department’s Russian partners “are amenable to discussion.”

POGO is pleased to see the Energy Department formally move away from the MOX program and begin working toward a cheaper, faster, and less risky strategy for disposing this dangerous material.

April 11, 2016 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Dangerous, pointless nuclear race in East Asia

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

A Little-Known Nuclear Race Taking Place in East Asia Is Dangerous and Pointless 5 Apr 16   Frank von HippelSenior Research Physicist, Emeritus, Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University   Fumihiko YoshidaVisiting Scholar, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace   

plutonium238_1Plutonium was first produced and separated during America’s World War II nuclear weapons project. Its destructive power became apparent at the end of the war when, in one-millionth of a second, one kilogram of plutonium in the Nagasaki bomb fissioned and destroyed the city below.

Today, a number of countries — including France and Japan — are separating plutonium from the spent fuel of their reactors and building dangerous stockpiles of this weapon-usable nuclear material with no good economic purpose.

Japan, the only non-nuclear weapons state that separates plutonium today, has accumulated almost 50 metric tons. Last month, Japan shipped more than 700 pounds of mostly weapons-grade plutonium — enough for about 50 nuclear bombs — to a more secure location in the U.S. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been simultaneously pushing through a law to guarantee funding for a new spent fuel “reprocessing” plant designed to separate hundreds of tons of plutonium for use in reactor fuel.

Meanwhile, China’s new five-year plan includes a proposal to buy a reprocessing plant from France that will separate plutonium that will probably accumulate like Japan’s. And South Korea insists that it should have the same right to separate plutonium as Japan.

These plans and desires are troubling. As President Obama said during the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit, “We know that just the smallest amount of plutonium — about the size of an apple — could kill hundreds of thousands and spark a global crisis … We simply can’t go on accumulating huge amounts of the very material, like separated plutonium, that we’re trying to keep away from terrorists.”

Nuclear scientists working on weapons in the U.S. during World War II had a vision that plutonium could have a peaceful use. They proposed a plutonium “breeder” reactor that would convert uranium-238 into chain-reacting plutonium whose fission could power civilization for millennia. During the 1960s, this vision infected the global nuclear energy establishment. Since the 1970s, industrialized countries havespent about $100 billion on attempts to commercialize breeder reactors. Fortunately, this effort failed. We now understand the increased dangers of nuclear terrorism and proliferation that would have resulted had plutonium, a nuclear weapons material, become a commodity like petroleum. Conventional reactors are fueled by low-enriched uranium that is not usable in weapons.

In the absence of breeders, however, France has been continuing to separate plutonium and using it to fuel some of its conventional reactors; Japan has been trying less successfully to do the same.

The plutonium-uranium “mixed oxide” fuel produced in this way costs 10 timesmore than the low-enriched uranium that is the primary fuel for conventional reactors. But France’s government insists that Électricité de France continue to fund the bankrupt government-owned company AREVA to separate plutonium from EDF’s spent fuel. Meanwhile, Japan’s government is obliging its utilities to separate more plutonium as well. Globally, including failed plutonium programs in Russia and the United Kingdom, a surplus of more than 250 tons of plutonium — enough for 30,000 Nagasaki-type nuclear weapons — has been accumulated in civilian plutonium programs.

How can one explain the continuing interest in France, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea in separating plutonium? Institutional inertia is most of the answer in France and Russia but, in East Asia, the original use of plutonium — nuclear weapons — is also a factor. In South Korea, demands that the nation should have the right to be able to separate plutonium peak after North Korean nuclear tests. Security experts in Japan also increasingly justify its plutonium program as providing a latent nuclear deterrent against North Korea and China. China’s nuclear energy establishment is still enthralled with breeder reactors, but some analystsworry that China could use the reprocessing plant it plans to buy from France to quickly build up its nuclear weapons stockpile to the same scale as those of Russia and the United States.

The plutonium plans of each of the three East Asian countries, reinforced by worst-case assumptions about the intentions of the others, are further destabilizing an increasingly unstable region.

The United States cannot dictate to any of these countries. But it has a lot of leverage by virtue of being South Korea and Japan’s most important military ally and its agreements on peaceful nuclear cooperation with both.

 The Agreement for Cooperation Between the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America Concerning Civil Uses of Atomic Energy can continue indefinitely, but either country can terminate it starting in 2018. On March 17, in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Countryman indicated that the U.S. was planning on using this leverage to force a discussion of Japan’s plutonium program. At the very least, the U.S. should demand that Japan focus on disposing of its already separated plutonium before separating more. After all, Japan’s Toyota invented the “Just-in-Time” system for minimizing inventories.

In the recently completed negotiations over the renewal of the U.S.-Republic of Korea Agreement for Peaceful Nuclear Cooperation, the two countries kicked the issue of South Korea’s demand for the right to reprocess spent fuel down the road by launching a joint 10-year study of the “feasibility” of South Korea’s proposed program.

If the U.S. cannot convince France to hold off selling a reprocessing plant to China, it should at least insist that, as a part of the deal, both countries commit to “just-in-time” plutonium separation — that is, no stockpiling.

The ultimate goal, however, should be to end the costly, dangerous, pointless industry of plutonium separation. The U.S. has pursued that goal since 1974, when India used plutonium from its nominally civilian breeder reactor development program to launch a nuclear weapons program. Since that time, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland and other countries have abandoned their reprocessing programs and the United Kingdom has decided to do so as well.

The U.S. must continue to press the holdouts.

April 6, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, ASIA, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Armed UK vessels secretly take weapons grade plutonium from Japan to USA

The Pacific Egret and its escort ship Pacific Heron are reportedly lightly armed UK flagged vessels and arrived in Kobe port from Barrow-in-Furness, England on March 4th. The Egret docked in Tokai for pre-transport logistics last week. Both ships after departing Tokai port will sail together most likely through the South Pacific to the east coast of the United States.

ship radiationNPT and Nuclear Security Risks’ Exposed by Secret Plutonium Shipment: NGOsMarch 18, 2016 Tokyo- (PanOrient News) A coalition of five non-governmental organizations warned today that a shipment of weapons-grade plutonium scheduled to
depart the port of the Japanese Tokai nuclear station in Ibaraki prefecture this coming weekend highlights the failure, but also the proliferation risks, of the current Japanese nuclear policy. 

A cargo of 331kg of plutonium will be loaded on to the Pacific Egret, an armed British nuclear transport ship, prior to departure under armed escort to the United States. It will be the largest shipment of separated plutonium since 1.8 tons of plutonium was delivered to Japan by controversial Akatsuki-maru in 1992. The two month voyage to the Joint Base Charleston-Weapons Station will then see the plutonium dumped at the Department of Energy Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, which is responsible for the shipment, has identified that storage in Japan poses a security risk justifying its removal.

The organizations, Citizen Nuclear Information Center (Japan); Green Action (Japan); Savannah River Site Watch (U.S.); CORE (England), and Greenpeace, said in a statement they condemn the shipment as a dangerous distraction from the major problem in Japan which is its overall nuclear energy policy, where over 9 tons of plutonium remains stockpiled and there are plans to produce many tons more during the coming decade. The representatives of the five organizations have worked together over the past quarter century against Japan`s plutonium and nuclear fuel cycle program.

 Two-hundred and thirty six kilograms of the Tokai plutonium was supplied to Japan from the UK, with 2 kilograms from France and the remainder from the U.S. for neutronic testing purposes at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency Fast Critical Assembly facility at Tokai-mura in Ibaraki, the statement said noting that the facility has been used as a basis for Japan`s failed fast breeder reactor program, in particular the MONJU reactor.For more than five decades, Japanese nuclear policy has been based on the production and use of plutonium as a nuclear fuel. However, “the failure” of both its breeder program and plans to use plutonium as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel in light water reactors, has led to Japan acquiring the largest stockpile of weapons usable plutonium of any non nuclear weapon state.

For the U.S. and Japanese government, the Tokai shipment will be mistakenly hailed as demonstrating their commitment to reducing the threat from fissile materials, the statement noted. Both Prime Minister Abe and President Obama plan to announce the ‘success’ of the removal from Japan, at the fourth Nuclear Security Summit from March 31st -April 1st in Washington, D.C., while Japan will be desperate to avoid any discussion of the proliferation and security threat posed by its plutonium fuel cycle program.

“If 331 kg of plutonium warrants removal from Japan on the grounds of its vulnerability and in the interests of securing nuclear weapons material, then there is no credible justification for Japan’s current program and future plans to increase its plutonium stockpiling. Hailing a shipment of hundreds of kilograms of plutonium as a triumph for nuclear security, while ignoring over 9 tons of the weapons material stockpiled in Japan and in a region of rising tensions, is not just a failure of nuclear non proliferation and security policy but a dangerous delusion,” said Shaun Burnie, senior nuclear specialist at Greenpeace Germany, who is currently in Japan. ……..

The Pacific Egret and its escort ship Pacific Heron are reportedly lightly armed UK flagged vessels and arrived in Kobe port from Barrow-in-Furness, England on March 4th. The Egret docked in Tokai for pre-transport logistics last week. Both ships after departing Tokai port will sail together most likely through the South Pacific to the east coast of the United States.

March 19, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing, safety, USA, wastes | 1 Comment

Failure of Japanese nuclear reprocessing plan. What to do with all that plutonium?

NPT and Nuclear Security Risks’ Exposed by Secret Plutonium Shipment: NGOs, March 18, 2016 Tokyo- (PanOrient News) “……..In total, Japan`s current stockpile is around 46,700 kg, of which 9,528kg is located in Japan, the remaining balance being stored in France and the UK. The shipment from Tokai port will reduce its stockpile to 9,197 kg. Less than 8kg is sufficient for one nuclear weapon. While the Tokai shipment consists of weapons grade plutonium, and the vast bulk of Japan`s remaining stockpile is designated reactor-grade plutonium, from a security and non proliferation perspective there is no practical distinction and reactor-grade plutonium is capable of being used for the manufacture of nuclear weapons — a point highlighted by Shigeru Ishiba, a former Liberal Democratic Party Defense Minister, when speaking in 2011 described Japan`s nuclear energy program as “a tacit nuclear deterrent”, the statement said.

Sellafield-reprocessingTwo reactors, Takahama 3 and 4, owned by Kansai Electric, began operation in January and February 2016 loaded with plutonium MOX fuel, with unit 3 operating with 24 assemblies containing 1,088kg of plutonium and unit 4 with 4 assemblies containing 184kg of plutonium. Unit 4 shutdown due to an electrical failure three days after start up, while unit 3 was forced to shutdown on March 10th following a court order. Both reactors remain shutdown and are subject of a court injunction preventing operation issued by the Otsu district court, Shiga prefecture on March 9th. They are expected to be non operational for many months. Of the 26 reactors under review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), Ikata-3, Genkai-3 and Tomari-3 are all intended to operate with plutonium MOX fuel.

“On current plans, and if ever the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant begins operation, Japan`s program could yield as much as 93,000kg by 2025 – most of which will remain unused. The reactor program in Japan is in crisis with no credible program for either restarting most reactors or using large amounts of this plutonium. If ever there was a time to abandon its current doomed nuclear energy policy, it is now. The Obama administration in its last year has an opportunity to step up and actively reduce the spiraling proliferation dynamic in East Asia – this should be top of the agenda in Washington instead of being ignored. The next step is to challenge the basis of the U.S.-Japan nuclear cooperation agreement which runs to 2018 – approval for Japan to continue acquiring plutonium must be reversed,” said Burnie.

The Department of Energy has no plans for final disposal of the Japanese plutonium, which will be added to the existing stockpile of 13 tons at the SRS, demonstrating that the shipment is largely a commercial dumping operation to secure funds for the beleaguered weapons material production site near Aiken, South Carolina, as pointed out by Savannah River Site Watch, the organizations said…….  .

March 19, 2016 Posted by | - plutonium, Japan, reprocessing, wastes | Leave a comment

USA worried about weapons proliferation risks in China’s Nuclear Recycling plan

China’s Plans to Recycle Nuclear Fuel Raise Concerns U.S. energy secretary airs worries about proliferation risks ahead of nuclear-security summit  WSJ, By BRIAN SPEGELE, 17 MAR 16,  BEIJING—China’s plans to process spent nuclear fuel into plutonium that could be used in weapons is drawing concern from the U.S. that Beijing is heightening the risk of nuclear proliferation.

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, in Beijing for talks, said Thursday that China’s plans to build a nuclear-recycling facility present challenges to global efforts to control the spread of potentially dangerous materials……..

Mr. Moniz’s comments marked a rare public expression by the Obama administration of concern over China’s reprocessing plans. The differences, which the governments have discussed privately, are being aired ahead of a visit by President Xi Jinping to Washington this month for a summit with President Barack Obama and other world leaders on nuclear security.

The issue comes down to the different choices countries make over how to handle potentially dangerous waste created by commercial nuclear reactors. In the U.S., spent fuel is treated as sensitive material and is stored, and reprocessing is banned out of proliferation concerns.

Elsewhere, including in France and Japan, spent fuel is recycled to extract plutonium to be used in nuclear reactors. The U.S.’s concern is that the bigger the stockpiles of plutonium, the higher the risk that some of it could be refined for use in nuclear weapons or taken by terrorists……

U.S. concerns about nuclear reprocessing and proliferation are particularly acute in the Asia-Pacific region, “where the perception is there is less international cooperation, less transparency,” said Mark Hibbs, a nuclear expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace………

larger Chinese stockpiles of isolated plutonium could prompt Japan, especially, to build up its caches.

Civilian plutonium stockpiles reached 271 metric tons by the end of 2014, up from around 150 metric tons in the 1990s, the International Panel on Fissile Materials, an independent group looking at nonproliferation policy, said in its latest annual report.

The official Xinhua News Agency reported in September that construction of China’s reprocessing facility may start in 2020 and take a decade to complete. The project is expected to have a processing capacity of 800 metric tons of spent fuel a year…..

Previously, the U.S. has questioned the economic viability of such projects, which are expensive to build and operate, as well as proliferation issues, Ernest Moniz said……

Mr. Hibbs from the Carnegie center said China’s decision to pursue reprocessing couldn’t be justified on economic or commercial grounds, given the billions of dollars needed to construct one large-scale facility. But China may be acting strategically, guaranteeing future fuel supply by recycling, he added.

Last June, state-owned China National Nuclear Corp. and France’sAreva SA agreed to speed up negotiations on building the facility. Areva didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Moniz’s remarks and CNNC said its press officers weren’t available.

Write to Brian Spegele at

March 18, 2016 Posted by | China, politics international, reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

PRISM and Pyropressing – untested , toxic and dangerous new nuclear toys


What the pro nuclear apologists don’t talk about is just as important as what they do focus on. Because the PRISM reactor requires a mixed fuel, which has not yet been perfected and must still be ‘designed’ and experimented with, this reactor also requires a very dangerous pyroprocessing technique, which requires huge amounts of energy and must be done remotely, because it so toxic and radioactive.  To create the fuel to burn in nuclear reactors required building two massive coal fired plants that were dedicated just to running Savannah River nuclear fuels site. How much energy will this ‘new’ fuel processing technique take, and how many coal fired plants must be dedicated to it?
The technical challenges include the fact that it would require converting the plutonium powder into a metal alloy, with uranium and zirconium. This would be a large-scale industrial activity on its own that would create “a likely large amount of plutonium-contaminated salt waste,” Simper said.
Now PRISM requires the making of radioactive fuel as well, which must also be ‘manufactured’ using even more toxic and dangerous processes than what has come before. PRISM does not burn pure plutonium, as it requires a ‘mix’ of things, which must be manufactured, in a process that has not yet been perfected. The processing and burning of plutonium, will release plutonium into the environment, guaranteed.

February 15, 2016 Posted by | 2 WORLD, Reference, reprocessing | Leave a comment

The decline of the South Carolina Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication (MOX) Nuclear Reprocessing Facility

MOXHalf-Built Nuclear Fuel Plant in South Carolina Faces Test on Its Future, NYT, By JAMES RISEN FEB. 8, 2016 WASHINGTON — Time may finally be running out on the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility, a multibillion-dollar, over-budget federal project that has been hard to kill.

The Energy Department has already spent about $4.5 billion on the half-built plant near Aiken, S.C., designed to make commercial reactor fuel out of plutonium from nuclear bombs. New estimates place the ultimate cost of the facility at between $9.4 billion and $21 billion, and the outlay for the overall program, including related costs, could go as high as $30 billion.

Officials warn that the delays in the so-called MOX program are so bad that the plant may not be ready to turn the first warhead into fuel until 2040.

So in the budget that the Obama administration will present on Tuesday, the Energy Department proposes abandoning it. Energy officials want to spend only the money necessary to wind down the MOX program while the government shifts to a different method of disposing of the plutonium……..

The struggle is a case study in the difficulty of cutting unnecessary or wasteful federal programs, with the added twist that proponents of keeping the plant include some of the Republican Party’s most determined opponents of government spending, like Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican whose district includes Aiken……..

Two companies involved with the plant’s construction are among Mr. Wilson’s biggest contributors, according to campaign records. Chicago Bridge and Iron, one of the two companies that own the main contractor for the facility, gave $10,000 to Mr. Wilson’s 2014 re-election campaign, and the other owner, Areva Group, donated $8,000, according to campaign records.

“Programs like this stay in the budget when they become jobs programs, and then senior members of Congress try to protect them, even if they have no redeeming value,” said David Hobson, a former Republican congressman from Ohio who said he tried and failed to kill the MOX program while he was in the House. “Where are all the budget hawks on this?”……..

The Obama administration has wanted to get rid of the program for years. In a budget request three years ago, it said the idea of making reactor fuel “may be unaffordable.” But Congress has repeatedly restored funding.

The plant is being built to comply with an agreement with Russia in 2000, when both countries said they would eliminate 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium from their nuclear arsenals. Construction started during the George W. Bush administration, but has been plagued by long delays, cost overruns and little interest from commercial nuclear plants in buying the fuel that the plant was designed to produce.

Even proponents of the program have long said the Energy Department badly managed it………..

Giving up on the plant means the administration will abandon plans to turn the weapons-grade plutonium into fuel for commercial nuclear reactors, and will instead switch to a process that dilutes the plutonium into nuclear waste.

The Energy Department would like to move that nuclear waste to a facility near Carlsbad, N.M., where it would be stored deep underground in salt formations. The administration says it can get rid of the weapons material under the alternative approach for about $300 million to $400 million a year, compared with $800 million to $1 billion a year under MOX……….

February 10, 2016 Posted by | reprocessing, USA | Leave a comment

Nuclear waste repositary still needed: reprocessing is no answer to radioactive trash problem

EU paints challenging picture of Europe’s nuclear future, Energy  Post. February 2, 2016 by  “……….Limited prospects for recycling nuclear fuel

France is the only country in Europe that is still working towards a fully closed fuel cycle with fast neutron reactors and advanced reprocessing technology. Other countries use open cycles.

France will be the only country to operate reprocessing facilities after 2018 (when those in the UK are shut down). The partially closed cycle that technology currently permits “is not expected to give a major reduction of the final disposal solution footprint in comparison to an open cycle”.

The future of recycled nuclear fuel is limited by the lack of fast-breeder reactors, more safety requirements, a higher risk of proliferation, lower competitiveness, and the fact that it still requires a final waste depository…….


February 3, 2016 Posted by | EUROPE, reprocessing | Leave a comment

For China,nuclear reprocessing is both too costly and too dangerous

While reprocessing reduces the level of radioactivity in nuclear waste, The Union of Concerned Scientists – an advocacy group that was founded by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – says it does not reduce the need for storage and secure disposal of waste.

Some within China’s own nuclear establishment are also questioning the merits of reprocessing as the nation mulls huge capital investments in the sector, U.S.-based experts say.

China is an important market for the world’s nuclear industry giants, including the United States. The U.S. last year eased restrictions on its civilian nuclear cooperation with China to allow the reprocessing of fuel from U.S.-designed reactors

Book Cost of Reprocessing in ChinaChina faces nuclear energy choice: reprocess or not? WT, By MATTHEW PENNINGTON – Associated Press – Thursday, January 14, 2016 WASHINGTON (AP) – China is coming to a crossroads as it hurriedly increases nuclear power production to cope with rising electricity demand and cut carbon emissions: Should it reprocess its nuclear waste or store it?

Nonproliferation advocates warn that recycling waste would generate weapons-usable plutonium, posing a security risk and potentially stirring a nuclear rivalry in East Asia. A new Harvard University study, co-authored by a senior Chinese nuclear engineer, gives another reason against reprocessing – it doesn’t make economic sense. Continue reading

January 15, 2016 Posted by | China, reprocessing | Leave a comment

28 years later Japan’s costly nuclear recycling complex is still not working

Rokkkasho-reprocessing-planJapan’s $25 Billion Nuclear Recycling Quest Enters 28th Year, Bloomberg   sstapczynski  January 5, 2016 It’s designed to recycle spent uranium from Japan’s nuclear power plants, consists of more than three dozen buildings spread over 740 hectares (1,829 acres), costs almost $25 billion and has been under construction for nearly three decades. Amount of fuel successfully reprocessed for commercial use: zero.

Under construction since the late 1980s, the complex is designed to turn nuclear waste into fuel by separating out plutonium and usable uranium. The start date of the project has now been pushed back for the 23rd time, with operations set to commence in 2018.

The money continuing to pour into the Rokkasho reprocessing complex in a northeast corner of Japan’s main island of Honshu is raising speculation that attention is being diverted from more-promising avenues of energy development, including renewables.

 “Reprocessing is an idea that seemed good to many in the nuclear industry when it was first proposed, but with time and experience has proven to be uneconomical,” M. V. Ramana, a professor at Princeton University’s Nuclear Futures Laboratory, said by e-mail. “There is a lot of sense in the idea that Japan should just cut its losses and stop trying to get this plant to operate.”……..

Construction on Rokkasho, the heart of the endeavor, was supposed to be completed by 1997. Delays due to technical and safety issues have kept it from operating commercially while costs ballooned to an estimated 2.94 trillion yen ($24.6 billion), according to Japan Nuclear Fuel. The Japanese government and the country’s power industry view fuel reprocessing generally, and Rokkasho specifically, as one of the only ways to lower import dependence and find a home for thousands of tons of highly radioactive spent fuel. Japan has about 17,000 metric tons of spent fuel, almost 3,000 tons of which are stored at Rokkasho.
The facility was originally intended to separate plutonium from spent fuel for use in so-called fast-breeder reactors — plants that produce more fuel than they consume.

While the nation’s first prototype fast-breeder reactor has remained closed due to its own technical issues, Rokkasho expanded construction to include a facility that processes plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide fuel, known as MOX, that can be used in some of Japan’s existing reactors……

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment

Unpalatable news for nuclear industry: reprocessing may be found to be ‘wasteful spending’

flag-japanJapan may review spending on plutonium fuel cycle By Aaron Sheldrick and Linda Sieg DEC. 11, 2015  TOKYO —

Japan may review spending on reprocessing plutonium for use in nuclear reactors, a minister appointed to identify wasteful spending told Reuters, following years of government outlays on the controversial program that has yielded no results.

The minister’s comments come after the operator of Japan’s fast breeder reactor, designed to use plutonium extracted from spent reactor fuel, was declared unfit following decades of accidents, missteps and falsification of documents.

fast-breeder-MonjuCosts for the Monju breeder reactor have ballooned to about 1 trillion yen ($8 billion) while Japan’s public debt is the highest among industrialized nations. Taro Kono, a ruling Liberal Democratic Party member who is a critic of the Monju facility and the nuclear industry in general, was appointed to examine government spending in a recent cabinet reshuffle by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

While Kono emphasized he cannot overturn government policy, he can review public projects and said Abe had told the cabinet that wasteful spending had to be taken “out of the budget.”

He has been reviewing part of the government budget request of 102 trillion yen for the fiscal year starting March, including a little-used ship carrying nuclear fuel and subsidies to towns that host nuclear power plants. “In my portfolio, I can ask them if the money is spent wisely and that’s what I have been doing and the nuclear fuel cycle is no exception,” the U.S.-educated Kono said.

He said next year’s review could be widened to include all government spending on nuclear projects, something that might resonate with voters after the Fukushima disaster in 2011 turned the public against atomic power. “If they are not doing a good job, the review next year will be all nuclear, maybe,” Kono said.

His comments could have implications for another costly nuclear project that is mostly in private hands but has strong government support and receives some public funds. The Rokkasho plutonium reprocessing facility in northern Japan is meant to provide fuel for Monju and some of Japan’s nuclear reactors, but completion was delayed for a 23rd time last month.

The plant has been beset with problems since the first concrete was laid in 1993 and costs have ballooned to 2.2 trillion yen ($18 billion) from 760 billion yen.

text-wise-owlMeanwhile, Japan’s plutonium stockpile has expanded to nearly 50 tons, with stocks held in Britain and France as well as in Japan. Recently, a group of 31 scientists wrote to Abe urging him to abandon reprocessing.

With all but two of Japan’s reactors shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and no immediate use for the plutonium, there is little meaning to the costly exercise of extracting more from spent fuel, critics say.

“The PM’s directive is very clear. If we point out any items that are not spent well it has to be out of the budget,” Kono said. “That’s why a few ministers are not speaking to me right now,” he added, with a laugh.

December 12, 2015 Posted by | business and costs, Japan, politics, reprocessing | Leave a comment

PRISM (Power Reactor Innovative Small Module) and MOX much touted, but nuclear waste burial is best

Another option on the table is PRISM. Developed by GE Hitachi (GEH), PRISM is a sodium-cooled fast reactor that uses a metallic fuel alloy of zirconium, uranium, and plutonium. GEH claims PRISM would reduce the plutonium stockpile quicker than MOX and be the most efficient solution for the UK. The problem is, despite being based on established technology, a PRISM reactor has yet to be built, and the UK is understandably a little reluctant to commit in this direction. Seen as something of a gamble, it remains in the running alongside the currently more favoured MOX option.

Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is for sure. Regardless of what decision is taken, a proportion of the plutonium will end up as waste and will need to be safely disposed of.


waste-burialUnlike MOX and PRISM, immobilisation has no prominent industry backers. In comparison to exploiting the plutonium for our energy needs, there is no great fortune to be made from disposing of it safely. But immobilising the entire plutonium stockpile may in fact be a more economically sound approach than reprocessing

Sellafield plutonium a multi-layered problem, The Engineer UK,   6 November 2015 | By Andrew Wade   “……..It takes somewhere in the region of 5-10kg of plutonium to make a nuclear weapon, so 140 tons is a slightly worrying amount to have sitting in a concrete shed in Cumbria. While everyone at the press conference was at pains to point out that there are no major safety concerns with the current storage, it is widely accepted that a long-term plan needs to be formulated. This, however, is where things get tricky. The potential energy of the plutonium if converted to nuclear fuel is massive, but there are several competing technologies vying for endorsement, none of which are well proven as financially viable.

Top of the list – and the government’s current preference – is for some application that uses mixed oxide fuel, or MOX. MOX is made by blending plutonium with natural or depleted uranium to create a fuel that is similar, but not identical, to the low-enriched uranium used in most nuclear plants today. MOX can be – and in several European countries is – used in thermal reactors alongside uranium. But despite past concerns, there is in reality no shortage of uranium today, so no huge need to supplement it with MOX in current reactors. Where MOX could in fact lead to greater efficiencies is in fast reactors, but these are costly and difficult to operate, and would not make economic sense unless the cost of uranium fell.

To complicate matters further, developing MOX is by no means a straightforward process. Continue reading

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Reference, reprocessing, UK, wastes | Leave a comment

Japan’s nuclear reprocessing boondoggle – Monju reactor still in trouble

NRA’s ‘new management’ call for Monju reactor proves divisive, Japan Times, BY  OSAKA, 6 Nov 15,  – Two decades after a sodium leak and fire shut it down and nearly six decades after it was first conceived, the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, suffered another blow Wednesday when the Nuclear Regulation Authority called for it to be turned over to another operator.

To date, over ¥1 trillion has been poured into Monju — a plant that has never produced commercial electricity. Despite remaining inactive, safety measures alone cost ¥50 million a day.


Anti-nuclear activists have hailed the NRA’s unusually critical language as an important step toward scrapping the reactor, which was supposed to burn plutonium mixed with uranium.

Fukui politicians who heavily support Monju, including the prefecture’s governor and the mayor of Tsuruga, doubt that another operator can be found. They also worry that scrapping it would create local concerns as well as safety issues.

“What does it mean when the NRA says that it can’t leave Monju’s operations to the (government-backed) Japan Atomic Energy Agency? There aren’t any other organizations it can be left to,” Tsuruga Mayor Takanobu Fuchikami told reporters after the decision…….

Monju, conceived in the 1950s, has faced nothing but technical trouble, domestic and international controversies, and scandals.

Originally slated to go live in 1970, monju did not reach criticality until 1994. It was shut down following a December 1995 leak and fire involving liquid sodium. The incident was at that time Japan’s worst nuclear-related accident.

Further delays and scandals meant that by 2005, when Monju was taken over by JAEA after its predecessor organization was disbanded, officials hoped it would be commercially viable by around 2050.

But after it was revealed in 2012 that JAEA had failed to inspect nearly 10,000 reactor components in and after 2010, the NRA ordered Monju not to engage in preparatory work until it was satisfied safety had been improved…..

Activists are urging the government to give up on the project.

“Monju should be permanently shut down. If the Japanese government is capable of immediately and permanently scrapping Monju, we can gain some trust that it intends to have a logical, functional basic energy policy,” said Aileen Mioko Smith, executive director of Kyoto-based anti-nuclear group Green Action. “If it continues the status quo by flogging a horse that has been dead for 20 years, it bodes badly for Japan’s energy future.”

November 7, 2015 Posted by | Japan, reprocessing | Leave a comment


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,219 other followers