Power Line
The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan Vol.12
April 2001

Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle — The Current Situation

IN ORDER TO ATTAIN national energy security and address global environmental problems, Japan must make steady efforts to further develop its nuclear power. The country should establish an independent domestic nuclear fuel cycle in which spent fuel can be recycled so as to secure uranium resources, a long-term economical and dependable energy source. This article covers some of the recent developments that have contributed to achieving these objectives.

The Rokuei-maru, carrying spent fuel,
harbored at the port of Mutsu-ogawara.

Reprocessing Plant under Construction

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) is making steady progress in the construction of its reprocessing plant, which forms the core of nuclear fuel cycle facilities in Rokkasho Mura, Aomori Prefecture.

As of the end of February 2001, construction work was 62 percent completed. In October and November 2000, prior to receiving any spent fuel at the facilities, JNFL concluded an agreement with local public authorities dealing with the safety of local citizens and protection of the area's environment. This agreement represents a great leap forward for the reprocessing business.

Spent Fuel Receiving and Storage Facilities have already been completed. In December 2000, a total of 140 spent fuel assemblies, containing approximately 24 tons produced by two nuclear power plants, were safely transported into the Spent Fuel Receiving and Storage Facilities with the understanding and cooperation of local residents. This April 2001, tests utilizing water and steam will begin in order to check the functioning of the equipment, keeping pace with the progress of construction.

JNFL's reprocessing plant is due to begin operations in 2005, and the reprocessing capacity of the plant will be 800 tons per year. This is equivalent to the capacity to reprocess the spent fuel from thirty 1,000-MW-class nuclear power plants.

Spent fuel is brought to Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.
in Rokkasho-Mura, Aomori Prefecture.


MOX Fabrication Plant Plans Take Shape

The business of fabricating unburnt uranium and plutonium recovered at the reprocessing plant into plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel represents one of the most important steps in nuclear fuel cycle operations.

After conducting a series of studies, JNFL and the Japanese electric power companies concluded that it would be commercially feasible to conduct MOX fabrication business in terms of technology, safety measures, reliability and economics. In November 2000, JNFL decided to become the central entity responsible for the construction of a MOX fabrication plant in Rokkasho. Plans are to connect this plant and the reprocessing plant with an underground tunnel so that MOX powder can be transported safely and economically, facilities can be used jointly, and reprocessing technology can be utilized effectively.

The planned MOX fabrication plant will have a processing capacity of 130 tons a year; thus all the MOX powder recovered at the reprocessing plant can be processed, even in the event of possible future fluctuations. The MOX plant is expected to begin operations in 2008-2009.