An International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team of experts has concluded that the 70-year decommissioning programme of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), including long term management of residual waste, provides a good basis for future effective implementation. The team’s report was published on the IAEA web site on 22 June. The team made several recommendations to support JAEA in increasing the effectiveness of decommissioning activities for its large fleet of nuclear facilities, including in the area of waste disposal.

The report was the outcome of an Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) review which took place from 12 to 22 April. The Government of Japan requested the mission to review JAEA’s ‘Back-end Roadmap’ which is its long-term programme for decommissioning 79 nuclear research and development facilities over a period of 70 years. These facilities include prototype power reactors and research reactors, for example those used for nuclear fuel safety research and heavy ion research, reprocessing and other fuel cycle facilities, and waste management facilities, and the associated radioactive waste processing and disposal facilities. The Roadmap does not cover Japan’s fleet of commercial nuclear power plants or facilities in other research institutes or in universities.

Travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that the ARTEMIS review was held in a hybrid fashion. The review team, comprising eight experts from Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the USA, as well as three IAEA staff members, met in Vienna, Austria, or participated from their home locations when travel was not possible. They held virtual meetings with counterparts in Japan from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and JAEA. Significant analysis was done in the months before the review week.

The ARTEMIS mission reviewed the overall adequacy of JAEA’s programme of decommissioning and waste management, the associated cost estimation methodologies, and approaches to ensuring effective programme implementation. The mission findings will assist MEXT and JAEA in the planning and implementation of decommissioning and waste management, and related cost estimates, benefiting from the insight and experience of good international practice.

The ARTEMIS team acknowledged that the decommissioning programme prioritises facilities based on an overall risk reduction strategy and those where significant maintenance-related cost benefits are expected. The current programme of decommissioning is concentrated on three main facilities – the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, the Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor ‘Monju’ and the Advanced Thermal Reactor ‘Fugen’. These projects, together with associated waste processing and disposal activities, present technical challenges and represent the dominant share of cost and other resource needs during the first phase of decommissioning.

The team said JAEA’s ambitious programme to develop waste disposal facilities within the next decade presents a significant challenge, including managing the likely shortage of waste storage, especially in the event of delay in building the waste disposal facilities. However, JAEA is in a good position to continue meeting high standards of safe and responsible management of decommissioning, radioactive waste and spent fuel. The team highlighted the professionalism involved in the design and implementation of the Roadmap, and the commitment to safety in all aspects.

The team observed that JAEA’s technology development achievements can benefit the future programme for decommissioning and waste treatment and welcomed the establishment of a centralised management structure. JAEA provides facilities for the training of personnel from local industries who have no previous experience in decommissioning activities at the Fukui Smart Decommissioning Technology Demonstration Base in Tsuruga, Japan. This approach aims to expand the pool of technical resources for decommissioning by engaging local industries. The ARTEMIS team identified this as a good practice.

“JAEA has developed a commendable Roadmap that establishes the direction of its future decommissioning and waste disposal programme whilst adequately highlighting the challenges faced. The lessons learnt during this mission will also be of benefit to the international community,” said ARTEMIS team leader Francesco Troiani, Director of Development and Technological Innovation at Italian decommissioning and radioactive waste management company SOGIN.

The team provided recommendations and suggestions to support JAEA in increasing the effectiveness of the Roadmap including:

  • Reviewing a range of options to more clearly separate organisational and resourcing responsibilities for research and development and decommissioning to strengthen the focus on each mission.
  • Developing an integrated schedule for the decommissioning and waste management programme, identifying major risks and opportunities, and enhancing the methodology for decommissioning cost assessments.
  • Preparing for delays in the development of disposal facilities and providing appropriate waste storage capacity in the interim.
  • Promoting expansion of the range of industrial supplier organisations with appropriate skills to implement decommissioning work, taking a long term perspective, and implementing a framework to ensure personnel have the appropriate skills required to implement the Roadmap.

“Japan requested this mission to support the planning and implementation of decommissioning, based on IAEA publications and benefit from good international practice. We have learned a great deal through this exercise, which will help us to optimise the overall decommissioning programme, including its delivery.” said Horiuchi Yoshinori, Deputy Director General from MEXT.

Christophe Xerri, IAEA Director of Nuclear Fuel Cycle and Waste Technology, welcomed the effective approach of the review. “Japan has a structured approach to decommissioning and the counterparts were well prepared for this ARTEMIS mission. JAEA is in a period of transition from an organisation with a long history of nuclear related research and development, to one that must carry out both its original research and development mission and its new 70-year decommissioning mission”, he said.