A spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho in northeastern Japan looks set to gain approval for full operation as the country’s regulator completed most of its safety review Friday.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority checked remaining safety measures of the plant in Aomori Prefecture against the risks of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and its members made no objection.
Operator Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. expects the completion of the plant in the first half of fiscal 2021. The construction is more than 20 years behind schedule.
The Rokkasho plant will be a key pillar of Japan’s nuclear fuel reprocessing policy, even though questions remain about whether the reprocessing cycle will work effectively.
When completed, the Rokkasho plant can extract about 8 tons of plutonium a year by reprocessing spent fuel.
Spent fuel from nuclear reactors is reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium, which is then recycled into fuel called mixed oxide, or MOX, for use in fast-breeder reactors or conventional nuclear reactors.
But most of the country’s nuclear power plants remain offline, making it likely that plutonium stockpiles will increase unless more reactors that can burn MOX resume operations.
The Japan Atomic Energy Commission said in an updated guideline in July that Japan will reduce the amount of plutonium it possesses amid growing concern by some countries about its increase.
The operator filed for the regulator’s safety review in January 2014. Due to a series of problems found at the plant, the review had been suspended between October 2017 and May.
In August last year, about 800 liters of rainwater was found to have seeped into a building housing key emergency power sources.