Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on 31 January approved the restart of the Static Experiment Critical Facility at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) research facility in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The facility still needs to undergo final checks under new rules introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.
The restart approval came after JAEA responded to a request made in November by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) to clarify the purpose of storing plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (mox) fuel at the reactor.
Japan’s policy is to reprocess used fuel from nuclear reactors to re-use extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel. However, it also adheres to a policy of not possessing plutonium without a specified purpose. In a document, the JAEA said it would not use mox “other than for peaceful purposes”, which gained approval from JAEC. JAEA said the reactor would be used to research the removal of melted nuclear fuel to support decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which experienced core meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The JAEA has previously faced heavy criticism for lax safety management following revelations of equipment inspection failures at its Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor. The prototype, which had been intended to play a vital role in Japan’s nuclear fuel recycling policy, is now set to be scrapped. In June 2017, a nuclear exposure accident occurred at the institution’s Oarai Research and Development Centre in Ibaraki, causing internal radiation exposure in five workers, although no harmful consequences were detected in the surrounding environment.