Japan’s FEPC reaffirms plans for mox use assuming Rokkasho facilities begin operation

2 March 2021

Japan’s Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC) on 26 February reaffirmed the plutonium utilisation plan it announced in December, subject to operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and mox fuel plant. FEPC represents the 11 power companies, comprising nine utilities (excluding Okinawa Electric Power), Japan Atomic Power Company and the Electric Power Development Company (J-Power).

"In Japan, where resources are scarce, we will secure stable energy in the future," FEPC said. "In order to do so, it is essential to establish a nuclear fuel cycle in Japan. Despite changes in the environment surrounding nuclear power generation after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, pluthermal [mox] fuel remains important."

FEPC said, in line with the December plan it was aiming for early and maximum implementation of mox use at least by 2030, with 12 nuclear unit using mox by then, assuming operation of the Rokkasho facilities. This would meet the requirements of national policy to reduce stocks of plutonium, including those held abroad.

Since the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident the Nuclear Regulation Authority has approved four reactors to restart using mox -- Kyushu Electric Power’s Genkai 3, Shikoku Electric Power’s Ikata 3 and Kansai Electric’s Takahama 3 and 4. Of these, only Genkai 3 is currently operating.

FEPC estimated that these four units would use a total of 0.2 tonnes of plutonium in 2021, 0.7 tonnes in 2022 and 1.4 tonnes in 2023. These usage amounts are based on the operation plan of each company, as of January. FEPC said the operation plan for 2024 and beyond is undecided, but from the perspective of showing the outlook for plutonium usage after the start of operations at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, the current outlook for usage is: 0.7 tonnes in 2024; 1.4-2.8 tonnes in 2025; and about 6.6 tonnes annually between 2026 and 2030. FEPC expects the use of domestically-produced mox fuel to begin after 2026. However, this assumes the Rokkasho facilities are functioning by then.

Construction of a reprocessing plant at Rokkasho, which began in 1993 was originally scheduled for completion in 1997while onstruction of the mox plant, also at Rokkasho, began in late 2010. Both have faces a series of delays and Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited now expects to complete construction of the reprocessing plant in 2022 and the mox plant in 2024.

Until 1998, Japan sent most of its used fuel to France and the UK for reprocessing and mox fabrication but in 1999 began storing it to supply the Rokkasho facilities. Japan’s mox fuel policy originally assumed the use of fast breeder reactors (FBRs) but technical problems have led to its FBRs to be closed and plans for a new design are unclear. As a result plutonium stored in used fuel held by Japanese NPPs has increased to some 46 metric tons.

Before Fukushima, Japan’s power industry had planned to run 16 to 18 reactors using mox. Under FEPC’s plan that has been reduced to 12, only four of which are currently approved for operation, with three of those closed pending local and regulatory approval to restart.

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