High-level waste arrives in Japan

23 April 2014

The fourth and largest shipment so far of high-level waste from the UK to Japan has been completed. All such waste, resulting from the reprocessing of used reactor fuel, should be returned from the UK to Japan by the end of the decade.

Pacific Grebe 460 (INS)
The Pacific Grebe arrives in Japan (Image: INS)

The Pacific Grebe, carrying five large flasks holding 132 canisters of waste in vitrified glass form, arrived in Japan yesterday having travelled via the Cape of Good Hope and the south-western Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific Grebe is classed as an INF 3 vessel, certified to carry plutonium or used nuclear fuel up to any level of radioactivity. It is owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, which is majority owned by International Nuclear Services (INS), itself part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that owns the Sellafield site along with all other assets from the UK's former national nuclear program.

The canisters were unloaded at the port of Mutsu-Ogawara, from where they were transported by road to Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd's storage facility at Rokkasho-Mura.

The waste originally came from Japanese nuclear power plants, but has been reprocessed at Sellafield's Thorp facility to reduce its volume and to recover fuel materials for recycle. The waste itself takes the form of a solid borosilicate glass matrix that immobilises highly radioactive fission products. This is held in stainless steel canisters. This form is suitable for permanent disposal and can be handled separately from intermediate-level wastes, which require less complex management, and the recovered uranium and plutonium that can be incorporated into new reactor fuel.

The shipment is the latest in a program to return foreign-owned waste stored in the UK to its country of origin. The Vitrified Residue Return (VRR) program will see waste from UK reprocessing services returned to overseas customers in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy over a ten-year period. This will involve 11 shipments to transfer a total of 1850 canisters. The first shipment was completed in 2010.

France is the other place that Japan can get its used fuel reprocessed. The repatriation of high-level wastes from Japanese fuel reprocessed in France was completed in 2007. Overall the latest shipment was the sixteenth of its type from Europe to Japan since 1995.

INS managing director Mark Jervis said, "This method of transporting radioactive waste is safe, secure and tried and tested." He added, "We know that with meticulous planning and close working with Sellafield Ltd that we can continue to deliver progress in this long-term program."

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News