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Gov’t-backed body approved for research reactor ops under new rules

A research reactor of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency cleared a regulatory safety review on Wednesday, becoming the first facility of the government-affiliated research institute to pass post-Fukushima regulations.

 

The reactor, called the Static Experiment Critical Facility, in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, gained approval from the Nuclear Regulation Authority for the resumption of its operations to conduct research on extraction of melted fuel from nuclear plants.

 

The facility still needs to go through several final checks under the new rules introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

 

The clearance came after the JAEA responded to a request made in November by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, a government nuclear panel, to clarify the purposes of storing plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX fuel, at the reactor.

 

Japan, while upholding a policy of reprocessing nuclear reactors’ spent fuel and reusing extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel, adopts a policy of not possessing plutonium — a material that can be used to make nuclear weapons — without specified purposes.

 

In a document, the agency said it will not use MOX fuel “other than for peaceful purposes,” winning approval from the Japan Atomic Energy Commission.

 

According to the JAEA, the reactor will be used to conduct research on removal of melted nuclear fuel in an effort to support the decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, which experienced core meltdowns due to the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

 

The JAEA once came under heavy criticism for its lax safety management, following revelations of a number of equipment inspection failures at its Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor, which had been envisioned to play a key role in the country’s nuclear fuel recycling policy but is to be scrapped.

The institution faced another problem in June last year. A nuclear exposure accident also occurred at its Oarai Research and Development Center in Ibaraki which left five workers internally exposed to radiation, although no harmful consequences were detected in the surrounding environment.

==Kyodo

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