TOKYO – Japan’s nuclear watchdog on Wednesday approved anti-disaster safety measures at a new facility to temporarily store spent nuclear fuel prior to reprocessing.
With the green light, Recyclable-Fuel Storage Co., 80 percent owned by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and the rest by Japan Atomic Power Co., aims to start operating the storage facility in northeastern Japan from the next fiscal year starting April.
The storage facility in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, is the only one in Japan not located on the premises of a nuclear power plant and is designed to store spent fuel for up to 50 years.
More than six years after the company applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority for approval, the interim storage facility has cleared stricter safety standards introduced after the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear crisis.
The facility was constructed at a time when the amount of spent fuel generated at nuclear plants across Japan was expected to exceed the capacity of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd.’s reprocessing plant being built in the village of Rokkasho, also in the same prefecture.
But it is unclear when spent nuclear fuel will be brought to the new facility as most nuclear plants across the country, including those of the two utilities, remain idle.
The resource-scarce nation has pursued a nuclear fuel cycle policy designed to take spent fuel from reactors and extract plutonium for reuse.
The reprocessing plant, under construction for nearly three decades, passed safety checks in July but needs to clear additional screening before it can be brought online.
The company, also known as RFS, plans to build two structures on the premises. The first one with a capacity of 3,000 tons has been almost completed, while it has not started building the second one with a capacity of 2,000 tons.
It plans to cool down spent nuclear fuel in metal containers in the open air within the facility.
To enhance safety at the facility, the company has raised its estimate for the maximum possible seismic ground motion it should be capable of withstanding to 620 gals from 450 gals and said it will brace for a 23-meter tsunami, twice as high as the Aomori prefectural government’s projection.