Japanese plans for 16-18 reactors to be using mixed oxide (MOX) fuel by 2010 have been put back by five years, the country's Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPCO) has announced.
In a newly published briefing, FEPCO chairman Shosuke Mori said that, after reviewing the organisation's so-called 'Pluthermal' project in the light of national policy and the availability of the country's own reprocessing facilities, it had been decided to revise its goal of having 16-18 reactors using MOX fuel to fiscal 2015 instead of 2010.
As long ago as the 1950s, Japanese nuclear energy policy recognised that the energy resource-poor country must recycle uranium and plutonium recovered from used nuclear fuel. Up until 1998, Japan sent the bulk of its used fuel to plants in France and the UK for reprocessing and MOX fabrication. However, since 1999 it has been storing used fuel in anticipation of full-scale operation of its own reprocessing and MOX fabrication facilities.
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd's (JNFL's) reprocessing plant under construction at Rokkasho-mura is scheduled for completion in August 2009, but earlier this year the company put back the completion date for its planned J-MOX fabrication facility from August 2012 to August 2015. Construction work on the fabrication facility is scheduled to begin in November 2009.
Four shipments of reactor-grade plutonium recovered from used fuel have been sent back to Japan from European reprocessing plants since 1992. The most recent, comprising MOX fuel for Chubu's Hamaoka BWR, Shikoku's Ikata PWR and Kyushu's Genkai PWR, arrived in Japan from France in May 2009.
While waiting for domestic facilities to become available, Japanese utilities have been signing overseas contracts to meet their MOX requirements. Global Nuclear Fuel-Japan (GNF-J) has outsourced a contract to manufacture the first three years' worth of fuel for J-Power's new Ohma ABWR plant, designed to run on a full MOX core, to Areva. The French company also has MOX fabrication contracts with Chubu, Kyushu, Shikoku and Kansai.