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Japan vows to cut its nuclear hoard but neighbours fear the opposite

Poor region of Japan is now very dependent on Rokkasho nuclear recycling project
Capture du 2018-09-27 15-27-21
Japan Nucle­ar Fuel Ltd.’­s plant in Rokka­sho, Japan , Aug. 2, 2018.
Japan has amassed a large stockpile of plutonium and neighbours fear that the country may decide to build more nuclear weapons.
25 Sept  2018

More than 30 years ago, when its economy seemed invincible and the Sony Walkman was ubiquitous, Japan decided to build a recycling plant to turn nuclear waste into nuclear fuel.

It was supposed to open in 1997, a feat of advanced engineering that would burnish its reputation for high-tech excellence and make the nation even less dependent on others for energy.

Then came a series of blown deadlines as the project hit technical snags and struggled with a Sisyphean list of government-mandated safety upgrades. Seventeen prime ministers came and went, the Japanese economy slipped into a funk and the initial $6.8 billion budget ballooned into $27 billion of spending.

Now, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd, the private consortium building the recycling plant, says it really is almost done. But there is a problem: Japan does not use much nuclear power anymore.

The country turned away from nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and only nine of its 35 reactors are operational.

It is a predicament with global ramifications. While waiting for the plant to be built, Japan has amassed a stockpile of 47 metric tons of plutonium, raising concerns about nuclear proliferation and Tokyo’s commitment to refrain from building nuclear arms even as it joins the United States in pressing North Korea to give up its arsenal.

In August, North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper accused Japan of accumulating plutonium “for its nuclear armament.”

Japan pledged for the first time this past summer to reduce the stockpile, saying the recycling plant would convert the plutonium into fuel for use in Japanese reactors.

But if the plant opens as scheduled in four years, the nation’s hoard of plutonium could grow rather than shrink.

That is because only four of Japan’s working reactors are technically capable of using the new fuel, and at least a dozen more would need to be upgraded and operating to consume the plutonium that the recycling plant would extract each year from nuclear waste.

“At the end of the day, Japan is really in a vice of its own making,” said James M. Acton, a researcher at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

“There is no easy way forward, and all those ways forward have significant costs associated with it.”

A handful of countries reprocess nuclear fuel, including France, India, Russia and the United Kingdom.

But the Japanese plan faces a daunting set of practical and political challenges, and if it does not work, the nation will be left with another problem: about 18,000 metric tons of nuclear waste in the form of spent fuel rods that it has accumulated and stored all these years.

rokkasho fuel.pngA stora­ge facil­ity for spent fuel rods at Japan Nucle­ar Fuel Ltd.’­s plant in Rokka­sho, Japan­, Aug 2018.

 

Japan’s neighbours, most notably China, have long objected to the stockpile of plutonium, which was extracted from the waste during tests of the recycling plant and at a government research facility, as well as by commercial recycling plants abroad.

Most of this plutonium is now stored overseas, in France and Britain, but 10 metric tons remain in Japan, more than a third of it in Rokkasho, the northeastern fishing town where the recycling plant is being built.

Japan says it stores its plutonium in a form that would be difficult to convert into weapons, and that it takes measures to ensure it never falls into the wrong hands.

But experts are worried the sheer size of the stockpile — the largest of any country without nuclear weapons, and in theory enough to make 6,000 bombs — could be used to justify a nuclear buildup by North Korea and others in the region.

Any recycling plan that adds to the stockpile looks like “a route to weaponise down the road,” said Alicia Dressman, a nuclear policy specialist. “This is what really concerns Japan’s neighbours and allies.”

Japan maintains that its plutonium is for peaceful energy purposes and that it will produce only as much as it needs for its reactors. “We are committed to nonproliferation,” said Hideo Kawabuchi, an official at the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.

But the launch of the Rokkasho plant has been delayed so long — and popular opposition to restarting additional nuclear reactors remains so strong — that scepticism abounds over the plan to recycle the stockpile.

Critics say Japan should concede the plant will not solve the problem and start looking for a place to bury its nuclear waste.

“You kind of look at it and say, ‘My God, it’s 30 years later, and that future didn’t happen,’” said Sharon Squassoni, a nonproliferation specialist at George Washington University.

“It’s just wishful thinking about how this is going to solve their myriad problems.”

 

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September 27, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Japan Has Enough Nuclear Material to Build an Arsenal. Its Plan: Recycle.

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After decades of delays, a plant in Rokkasho, Japan, is almost ready to start turning nuclear waste into nuclear fuel, its builders say. But Japan doesn’t use much nuclear power any more.
 
Sept. 22, 2018
ROKKASHO, Japan — More than 30 years ago, when its economy seemed invincible and the Sony Walkman was ubiquitous, Japan decided to build a recycling plant to turn nuclear waste into nuclear fuel. It was supposed to open in 1997, a feat of advanced engineering that would burnish its reputation for high-tech excellence and make the nation even less dependent on others for energy.
Then came a series of blown deadlines as the project hit technical snags and struggled with a Sisyphean list of government-mandated safety upgrades. Seventeen prime ministers came and went, the Japanese economy slipped into a funk and the initial $6.8 billion budget ballooned into $27 billion of spending.
Now, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., the private consortium building the recycling plant, says it really is almost done. But there is a problem: Japan does not use much nuclear power any more. The country turned away from nuclear energy after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and only nine of its 35 reactors are operational.
It is a predicament with global ramifications. While waiting for the plant to be built, Japan has amassed a stockpile of 47 metric tons of plutonium, raising concerns about nuclear proliferation and Tokyo’s commitment to refrain from building nuclear arms even as it joins the United States in pressing North Korea to give up its arsenal.

September 24, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , , | 1 Comment

Rokkasho Election Results

Unfortunately: pro-nuclear fuel cycle incumbent mayor was reelected…
 
June 24, 2018
The mayoral election took place in Rokkasho, Japan, on Sunday June 24th.
Here are the results :
The number of inhabitants having the right to vote: 8637
The number of votes: 5379
Invalid votes: 35
Voter turnout: 62.28%
M. Mamoru Toda, pro-nuclear fuel cycle incumbent mayor was reelected with 5021 votes.
Ms Junko Endo, anti-nuclear fuel cycle candidate gained 323 votes.
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The results show the extreme difficulty of anti-nuclear movements in local elections. However, thanks to the courage of Junko Endo, 323 voters were able to express their desire to stop the nuclear fuel cycle, and many people in the world became aware of what is happening in Rokkasho Village.
Thank you Ms ENDO for your courage!
Thanks to all of you who sent encouraging messages to Ms Endo that were gratefully forwarded to her.
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Let’s keep on following events in Rokkasho from all over the world!
 
Related article:
 

June 26, 2018 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Rokkasho NPP Violated Safety Rules

Nuclear fuel reprocessing operator violated safety rules: regulator
TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese nuclear regulators concluded Wednesday that Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. violated legally binding safety rules by failing to conduct necessary checks for over a decade at its uncompleted spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the country’s northeast.
The failure of checks at an underground portion of the plant in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture for some 14 years eventually resulted in about 800 liters of rainwater flowing into a building housing an emergency diesel generator in August this year. The generator is a crucial device in times of crisis such as the loss of external power.
Japan Nuclear Fuel President Kenji Kudo said at a Nuclear Regulation Authority’s meeting that he will prioritize inspections of all facilities at the plant and suspend its operations to seek a safety approval on the plant to put it onstream.
The utility plans to check its facilities and some 600,000 devices by the end of this year before requesting the authority to resume its safety assessment for the plant.
The body applied for a safety assessment of the plant in 2014 and aimed to complete it in the first half of fiscal 2018, but the goal is likely to be delayed due to the need for inspections.
The envisioned nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is a key component of the government’s nuclear fuel recycle policy, which aims to reprocess spent uranium fuel and reuse extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.
But the Rokkasho plant has been riddled with problems, with its completion date postponed 23 times since 1997, its initial target. It also had to meet as new, tougher safety standards made in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex, triggered by the 2011 deadly earthquake and tsunami.
The authority also said holes and cracks at exhaust pipes discovered at Japan Nuclear Fuel’s uranium enrichment plant in September also violate safety rules. The defects were left undetected for a long time due to a lack of inspection.
A utility compiles safety programs, which need to be assessed and approved by the authority.
If any grave flaws are found, the authority can issue an order to stop the operation of the plants or retract its approval to construct a nuclear plant.
Japan Nuclear Fuel “should have a substantial sense of crisis,” a member of the authority said. “We will take necessary measures if an improvement is not seen in ensuring the safety (in operating the plant).”
Nuclear fuel recycling plant screening suspended
Japan’s nuclear regulator says the operator of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northern Japan has violated safety regulations.
The plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, is run by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said at a meeting on Wednesday that the company violated its in-house safety regulations.
In August, rainwater was found to have flowed from piping in an underground tunnel into a building housing an emergency power generator at the plant. The firm was later found not to have conducted necessary inspections of the tunnel for 14 years.
At Wednesday’s meeting, company president Kenji Kudo pledged to address this and other maintenance problems before submitting documents needed for the regulator to conduct safety screening of the plant.
NRA member Satoru Tanaka pointed out that superficial efforts cannot fix the problems because the matter has to do with business operations. He suggested that the company should have a sense of crisis, and warned of tough measures unless safety improves.
The company aims to confirm the safety of all installations at the plant and draw up a management plan this year. Safety screening is required before the plant can fully operate.
Japan Nuclear Fuel appears to face difficulty in completing work on the plant by the first half of fiscal 2018 as planned. The facility is a pillar of the government’s nuclear fuel recycling program.

October 13, 2017 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Rokkasho Fuel Reprocessing Plant Faked Safety Records For 14 Years

(Kyodo) Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. violated legally binding safety rules by failing to conduct necessary checks for over a decade at its uncompleted spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant…
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Unfinished nuclear fuel reprocessing plant faked safety records: NRA
The firm that owns an uncompleted nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture failed to conduct necessary checks and falsified safety check records relating to the plant, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has reported.
The NRA concluded on Oct. 11 that Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) has violated safety measures after it was learned that the firm failed to carry out the required checks and nevertheless continued to write down “no abnormalities” in safety check records. There has been a spate of incidents such as the flow of rainwater into facility buildings at the plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho.
The plant, which is scheduled to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, was on the verge of hosting a final-stage NRA safety inspection, but the checkup is likely to be postponed considerably as JNFL now has to prioritize in-house inspections of all facilities at the plant.
One of the main roles of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is the extraction of reusable uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, making it a key part of the nuclear fuel cycle. However, the Rokkasho plant has been riddled with problems, and its completion date has been postponed 23 times since the initial planned opening date of 1997. Currently, the plant is scheduled to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2018, but this could be difficult.
In August, it came to light that about 800 liters of rainwater had flowed into an emergency electrical power building at the plant. The cause was the leaking of rainwater from an underground facility. This facility, however, has never been checked since its construction in 2003. JNFL nevertheless gave it a false “no abnormalities” appraisal in its daily records. Furthermore, about 110 liters of rainwater also flowed into the underground facility in September.
Apparently, the firm has tried to clarify the issue by saying that, “The (no abnormalities) comment was referring to another underground facility nearby.”
The company plans to complete safety checks at all its Rokkasho plant facilities within the year, and then submit the results to the NRA — with the intention of inviting the NRA to resume safety inspections of the plant.
Japan Nuclear Fuel skipped safety checks at Rokkasho plant for 14 years
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, allegedly violated safety rules for over a decade.
Nuclear regulators concluded Wednesday that Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. violated legally binding safety rules by failing to conduct necessary checks for over a decade at its uncompleted spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the country’s northeast.
The failure of checks at an underground portion of the plant in the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture for about 14 years eventually resulted in about 800 liters of rainwater flowing into a building housing an emergency diesel generator in August this year. The generator is a crucial device in times of crisis such as the loss of external power.
Japan Nuclear Fuel President Kenji Kudo said at a Nuclear Regulation Authority’s meeting that he will prioritize inspections of all facilities at the plant and suspend its operations to seek a safety approval on the plant to put it on stream.
The utility plans to check its facilities and some 600,000 devices by the end of this year before requesting the authority to resume its safety assessment for the plant.
The body applied for a safety assessment of the plant in 2014 and aimed to complete it in the first half of fiscal 2018, but the goal is likely to be delayed due to the need for inspections.
The envisioned nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is a key component of the government’s nuclear fuel recycle policy, which aims to reprocess spent uranium and reuse extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.
But the Rokkasho plant has been inundated with problems, with its completion date postponed 23 times since 1997, its initial target. It also had to meet new, tougher safety standards made in the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power complex, triggered by the powerful March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of the Tohoku region.
The authority also said holes and cracks at exhaust pipes found at Japan Nuclear Fuel’s uranium enrichment plant in September also violated safety rules. The defects had been undetected due to a lack of inspections.
A utility compiles safety programs, which need to be assessed and approved by the authority.
If any grave flaws are found, the authority can issue an order to stop the operation of the plants or retract its approval to construct a nuclear plant.
Japan Nuclear Fuel “should have a substantial sense of crisis,” a member of the authority said. “We will take necessary measures if an improvement is not seen in ensuring the safety (in operating the plant).”

October 13, 2017 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment