Spent Fuel and Waste Transportation :
Safety is Paramount
JAPAN CURRENTLY RELIES UPON nuclear energy for roughly one-third
of its electric power needs and for a good reason. One of the
merits of nuclear power is that the uranium fuel "burned"
in reactors (spent fuel) can be reprocessed for reuse.
The country has one small-scale reprocessing plant in Tokai Village,
120 km from Tokyo in Ibaraki Prefecture. In addition, a commercial
reprocessing plant is under construction at Rokkasho Village,
700 km north of Tokyo in Aomori Prefecture.
Due to the lack of a large-scale reprocessing plant, Japan has
been reprocessing most of its spent fuel in Europe. Reprocessing
extracts "unburnt" uranium and plutonium a by-product
when uranium fuel is consumed by nuclear reactors as well as high-level
radioactive waste. The waste is transported back to Japan for
The entire transport process is carried out in accordance with
the most rigorous safety standards set by the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) and the International Maritime Organization
(IMO). In this issue, we will examine the transport process in
greater detail to see how the multilayered-containment system
works to ensure the safest possible delivery of spent fuel and
Shipping Nuclear Materials (spent fuel and vitrified
Spent fuel has been transported to reprocessing facilities in
La Hague, France, and Sellafield, England. Over a 30-year period,
more than 160 shipments of spent fuel have been transported safely
from Japan to Europe. The high-level radioactive waste is "vitrified,"
or glassed, and shipped in radiation-shielded, durable casks to
a storage site in Rokkasho.
first shipment of vitrified waste from Europe to Japan occurred
in 1995, when a cargo vessel sailed from the French port of Cherbourg
and docked at a Japanese port after a two-month voyage. Since
then, two other shipments have been carried out without incident
the most recent took place in 1998. Over the course of the next
decade or so, such shipments are scheduled to take place once
or twice a year, with plans to transport more than 3,500 canisters
of vitrified waste.