Japan evaluates reprocessing options

21 May 2012

A Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) report evaluating the options for reprocessing says that if the current level of nuclear power is maintained or increased reprocessing would be the most effective option for the management of spent nuclear fuel. It recommends, however, that Japan pursue reprocessing and direct disposal concurrently.

The report was published on 16 May by the technical subcommittee on nuclear power, nuclear fuel cycle under the JAEC, according to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) Atoms in Japan news service.

The report proposed three recycling policy options, evaluating each against four different assumed levels of reliance on nuclear power in 2030: 35% reliance, 20%, 15% and 0%. In 2010, prior to the Fukushima accident, nuclear power accounted for just below 30% of the total electricity production in Japan.

The report finds the option of reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel and reusing the recovered uranium and plutonium to be the most expensive, JAIF reports. At the same time, it says that if the current level of nuclear power is maintained or increased, it would be the most effective in respect of management and storage of spent nuclear fuel, as well as the area required for radioactive waste disposal, and the conservation of resources. Potential issues that might be faced in carrying out this option include the stable operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and the practical availability of fast breeder reactors (FBRs).

JAIF says that report gives the most support to an approach that combines reprocessing and direct disposal concurrently. “That would offer flexibility in light of the indefinite nature of Japan’s future reliance on nuclear power, and would be less harmful than direct geological disposal, although there would be potential issues arising from the policy changes,” JAIF said.

Due to the current uncertainty regarding Japan’s nuclear power policy the subcommittee recommended two courses of action: either continuing the current nuclear fuel cycle policy with some conditions attached, or freezing current activities, including Rokkasho and the MOX fuel programme.

The report will be presented at the Council for a New Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy on 23 May, and later to the government's Energy and Environment Council via the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), according to JAIF.




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