Japan's government to support nuclear fuel recycling

30 November 2015

Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) has proposed revisions to the used nuclear fuel recycling programme, calling for stronger government involvement to ensure more reliable management.

Stonger government involvement is considered necessary in order to prepare for possible management difficulties at the power companies after the full liberalisation of the electricity retail market in April 2016, Japanese media reported.

Currently, power companies that operate nuclear plants set aside funds for used fuel reprocessing and use them to pay Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd's (JNFL's), based at the village of Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture. There is growing concern that power companies may withdraw from JNFL's fuel recycling business if they confront financial difficulties. JNFL's "limited company" status gives stockholders the choice to withdraw.

A Meti expert panel has been discussing the revisions, and on 30 November proposed creating a government-authorised corporation to replace JNFL. The proposed corporation will require government approval to disband. The panel recommends that the new body continues to use JNFL's employees and facilities. The ministry hopes to submit amendments to related laws to an ordinary session of parliament, next year.

Japan's industry minister Motoo Hayashi gave assurances on 28 November that the government will continue to pursue its policy of recycling nuclear fuel. He spoke to reporters after visiting the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. However, the plant has suffered a series of problems during test runs, and it is unclear when it will start operating. Meanwhile, fuel storage pools at nulcear plant sites are becoming full and the problem will increase if more reactors are restarted while the Rokkasho plant remains offline.

The schedule of the Rokkasho's completion has been postponed by more than two years because the Nuclear Regulation Authority has not yet finished its safety screening. Hayashi said the postponement will allow the plant to meet new safety requirements introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident. He added that he had asked JNFL to make an all-out effort to complete the plant.

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