Plutonium Recovered through Reprocessing of Fugen Fuel to be Transferred to Orano
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) reported to Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) on September 19 regarding its policy for utilizing plutonium recovered from spent fuel from the Fugen nuclear power plant (NPP) (ATR, 165 MW), now undergoing decommissioning, and received approval. Initially, they had chosen to conduct reprocessing at JAEA’s Tokai Reprocessing Plant, but that became impossible in June 2018, when the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved measures to close that reprocessing plant. Then they approached Orano’s recycling plants to discuss having them recycle the spent fuel from the Fugen NPP. They concluded a basic framework contract on March 31, 2022 and a performance contract on June 24, 2022. Meanwhile, the governments of Japan and the French Republic held an exchange on June 15, 2022 to discuss a “letter on matters such as the transportation and reprocessing of spent fuel and return of radioactive waste.”
According to JAEA, the spent fuel to be reprocessed consists of 466 assemblies being stored at the Fugen NPP and 265 being stored at the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, with these 731 spent fuel assemblies containing about 1.3 tons of recoverable plutonium. Note the peaceful use of the recovered plutonium is said to be being secured in the Exchange of Notes and agreement between the governments of Japan and France.
It has become clear, however, that the shipping of the spent fuel will be delayed until 2025 at the earliest, pending completion of the transport casks’ production.
Expansion of MOU with TerraPower in Promoting Cooperation in Fast Reactor Technology
JAEA, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi FBR Systems, and the US company TerraPower announced on October 31 that they had expanded their memorandum of understanding (MOU) on fast reactor technology, which they had concluded in January 2022 with regard to cooperation in developing the “Natrium” reactor, to include plans for the reactor’s demonstration. The MOU was revised in this case by including the development of a fast reactor demonstration plant in Japan together with the development of Natrium by TerraPower, based on the principles in Japan’s revised “Strategic Roadmap” (decreed at the Nuclear Ministerial Conference in December 2022) and the state of development in the US, as a cooperative effort in developing sodium-cooled fast reactor technology in Japan. The four companies involved issued a joint press release saying the following items had added to the scope of their discussions:
- Examining concepts of various systems when they are larger than the Natrium with its current specifications
- Exchanging information on severe accidents involving metallic fuel
- Providing support regarding strategies for licensing Natrium
Joint Research Base Established for Practical Application of Laser Fusion
On October 1, the Institute of Laser Engineering at Osaka University established a “Blue Laser Fusion Energy Research Division” to work toward practical application of laser fusion jointly with Blue Laser Fusion Inc., a company founded in the US on November 4, 2022 by a team including 2014 Nobel Prize winners Dr. Nakamura Shuji (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Dr. Ota Hiroaki (General Partner at Waseda University Ventures). This new research division is developing its own original innovative “power laser” with high average power while conducting research into state-of-the-art new fusion reactions that emit no radiation or produce less radiation harmful to the human body. They have declared their intention to lead the way toward society’s implementation of extremely clean fusion energy produced by using power lasers.
NuScale’s Plans to Build SMRs in Idaho Cancelled
In the previous News Watch issue, it was reported that Chubu Electric Power Co. had decided on September 7 to invest in NuScale Power Corp., a US company developing small modular reactors (SMRs), via its US subsidiary, and that it had concluded a contract for transfer of equity in a portion of shares held by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC). On November 8, however, NuScale Power clarified that it was cancelling its plans to build SMRs in Idaho, USA. The Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center (CNIC) and Friends of the Earth Japan (FoE-Japan) have issued a joint statement on this development (cnic.jp/english/?p=6841).
Fukui Prefecture and Kanden Remiss on their Promise
Having indicated its plans in June to ship one very minor part of its stored spent fuel to France, Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kanden) unilaterally concluded, “With this decision to ship the spent fuel, we have managed to determine a planned site for spent fuel interim storage facilities outside Fukui Prefecture, a task we had to complete with a final deadline of the end of 2023.” Needless to say, this way Kanden has of dealing with spent fuel is not well regarded.
Subsequently in August, Chugoku Electric Power Co. asked the town of Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture to investigate the feasibility of locating joint interim storage facilities for themselves and Kanden there, and Kaminoseki Town accepted, but for some reason, Kanden has shown no interest in that from start to finish. If that isn’t fishy enough, its October 10 “Spent Fuel Measures Roadmap,” which included “consideration of constructing dry storage facilities on NPP premises,” proposed to locate those in Fukui Prefecture. If they are constructing them on their NPP premises they are clearly not locating them outside the prefecture. Even so, this way of rationalizing that they are not breaking their promise is in itself a lie. Unlike the facilities that other electric power companies are establishing for interim storage of spent fuel until it can be sent to the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, these facilities are ‘pre-interim,’ meant for storing the spent fuel until it can be shipped to the interim storage facilities that Kanden promised to build outside the prefecture by around 2030. They say that by sending the spent fuel to ‘pre-interim’ dry storage facilities they will not increase storage space volume because it will not be occupying space in the pools on NPP premises. However, even according to Kanden’s optimistic calculations, the currently available space will fill up in five to seven years. Governor Sugimoto Tatsuji of Fukui Prefecture accepted Kanden’s plan, stating only that at such time, “operations will ultimately have to halt.” What it boils down to is that after a mere three days of talks, he accepted the continued operation of three NPPs exceeding 40 years in service, not giving a single thought to the views of his prefecture’s citizens.
To ensure that the “operations will ultimately have to halt” scenario does not happen, the “Roadmap” assumes a completion date for the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant of the first half of FY 2024, with spent fuel being accepted from some time in FY 2026. That, however, will not happen. Kanden Vice President Mizuta Hiroshi has evaded the issue, saying that “in the event that conditions in Japan or abroad change or natural disasters or such occur, resulting in delays under circumstances” to which his company could not respond freely and became “unable to contribute to a stable energy supply,” his company would use available space. As things stand, delays in the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant’s construction are said to be the rule rather than the exception, but then going back on promises also seems to be the rule.
In any case, the local daily Fukui Shimbun said in an article dated October 14, “The planned location of the interim storage facility outside the prefecture as originally promised has not materialized. Uncertainties in the time schedule’s practicality have not been eliminated, and there is a lingering sense of postponement.”
It was the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) that brought Fukui Prefecture to this sorry juncture. An Asahi Shimbun article also dated October 14 reported, “Use of nuclear energy ‘obligatory,’ METI intermediates.” Here is revealed the face of Japan’s national governmental policy behind the scenes in the “obligation to take all necessary steps” for utilization of nuclear power, as was written into the revised Atomic Energy Basic Act.