High-level waste returned to Japan

10 March 2010

The first consignment of solid high-level waste belonging to Sellafield's Japanese customers has safely arrived in Japan from the UK following a journey by ship of over six weeks. The waste arose from the reprocessing of those customers' used nuclear fuel at Sellafield.


HLW arrives in Japan (Sellafield)
The flask of waste is unloaded from the Pacific Sandpiper on its arrival in Japan (Image: Sellafield Ltd)

A single flask, containing 28 stainless steel containers of solid high-level waste (HLW) from the Sellafield site, left the UK port of Barrow on board Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd's (PNTL's) vessel, the Pacific Sandpiper, in January.


"The transport by sea is a tried and tested method that is safe, highly regulated and internationally approved," said Mark Jervis, Managing Director of International Nuclear Services (INS), parent company of PNTL. He added, "Since leaving Barrow on 21 January, the Pacific Sandpiper and her crew have performed flawlessly concluding a safe, on-time delivery to Rokkasho-mura."


The ship arrived at Mutsu Ogawara port at Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, on 9 March, where the loaded flask, weighing about 113 tonnes in total, was then unloaded. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL) will now receive the 28 canisters, which weigh a combined 14 tonnes. The HLW - resulting from the reprocessing of used fuel from power reactors belonging to Japanese utilities Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), Kansai Electric Power Co (Kepco) and Kyushu Electric Power Co - is being returned in a solid glass (vitrified) form. Aomori Prefecture has an agreement with the utilities to store HLW at Rokkasho for 30 to 50 years, after which it will be moved for final disposal in a repository, the site of which has yet to be decided.


Overseas used nuclear fuel has been reprocessed in the UK, under contract, to recover and separate the 97% of reusable nuclear materials from the 3% waste. Since 1976, all UK reprocessing contracts have contained an option for this radioactive waste to be returned to its country of origin and in 1986 the UK government took the decision that this option should be exercised.


The return comes as part of a program that will see waste from UK reprocessing services returned to overseas customers in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy over a ten-year period, with at least one return shipment per year. Overall, the UK phase of the program will return some 1850 containers of vitrified waste. The return program will mean that the volume of solid HLW stored temporarily in the UK is substantially reduced.


The repatriation of HLW from Japanese fuel reprocessed in France was completed in 2007, with PNTL completing a program of 12 similar shipments.


Mike Johnson, director of waste and effluent disposition for Sellafield Ltd, commented: "This work, known in the UK as Vitrified Residue Returns (VRR) program, delivers on the government's policy and contractual obligations for return of waste to overseas customers. It demonstrates the ability of our workers to safely prepare and deliver this material for transport, while meeting the most stringent national, international, and customer requirements."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News


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