The Japan Atomic Energy Commission has proposed both reprocessing and directly disposing of spent nuclear fuel if Japan’s atomic energy reliance is cut to 15 percent, a departure from the current policy of total reprocessing.
“This is extremely important because it would entail a shift to a flexible nuclear fuel programme, instead of the one pursued over the last 50 years” that advocated 100 percent reprocessing, the commission’s vice chair, Tatsujiro Suzuki, said during a meeting Thursday.
The changed tack comes as massive amounts of spent fuel are accumulating at nuclear plants nationwide and as decades-long efforts to activate reprocessing facilities remain mired in technical difficulties, sources said.
In light of the nuclear disaster, the government is considering several options on reducing the level of electricity provided by atomic plants as a percentage of Japan’s total power supply by 2030 – to zero, 15 percent, or between 20 and 25 percent.
It is believed to be leaning toward a 15 percent target, which would represent a significant decline since atomic energy generated 26 percent in fiscal 2010.
On Thursday, the commission suggested the most appropriate policies regarding spent nuclear fuel based on these three scenarios.
If atomic power is completely eliminated by the 2030 target date, it recommended burying all spent fuel underground.
However, it proposed incorporating both direct disposal and reprocessing as the best option if Japan’s nuclear reliance is cut to 15 percent, and also suggested the same two-track approach would allow the government greater flexibility if the dependency level is set at between 20 and 25 percent.
The amount of spent fuel stored at power stations has continued to surge, standing at around 14,200 tonnes across 17 facilities as of last September, including the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd’s storage facilities are already almost full and contained a total of 2,800 tonnes as of February, while several power stations are expected to reach maximum capacity over the next three years if their currently idled reactors are restarted, industry sources said.
Meanwhile, Japan Nuclear Fuel’s spent fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, has yet to begin operations due to a series of glitches and accidents during tests since the project was launched nearly 20 years ago.
In addition, the Monju fast-breeder reactor in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, was idled for 14 years following a sodium leak in 1995, and has remained suspended since August 2010 because a 3.3-tonne fuel exchange device plunged into it.