Japan's Nuclear Fuel Cycle — The Current
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
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
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.