The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) is currently decommissioning the prototype advanced thermal converter reactor “Fugen” (Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture). Plans calls for spent nuclear fuel from Fugen to be shipped to France. Tokyo Shimbun learned on Dec. 11 that 265 canisters containing spent nuclear fuel will be additionally shipped to France from the Tokai reprocessing plant in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture. The addition brings the total number of canisters for shipment to France to 731. The JAEA has made arrangements for spent nuclear fuel to be reprocessed in France to extract plutonium. Japan already possesses a total of about 47 tons of plutonium, which can be diverted to nuclear weapons, but the amount remains the same as the country does not consume it. If all of the spent fuel in the 265 canisters were reprocessed, the plutonium stockpile would increase by 1.3 tons. But there is still no plan for a way to consume this stockpile.
Fugen is a reactor at the research and development stage. Its operation ended in 2003 and the development of the same type of reactor has already been finished. Extracted plutonium from the reactors is handled for “research and development.”
About 80% of the spent nuclear fuel in the 731 canisters is mixed uranium and plutonium oxide fuel, so-called MOX fuel, which cannot be reprocessed in Japan. Most of plutonium extracted from MOX fuel cannot be used at normal nuclear plants and needs to be burnt in a special reactor called a fast reactor. However, as the government decided to decommission the prototype fast reactor “Monju” (Tsuruga City), there is no prospect of putting a fast reactor to practical use. In July, the Japan Atomic Energy Commission released guidelines for reducing the nation’s plutonium stockpile, but if reprocessing of spent fuel occurs first, this would go against the guidelines.
In October, the JAEA released only its plan to ship 466 canisters of spent nuclear fuel stored at the Fugen to France.