Delays at Japanese fuel cycle plants

14 December 2009

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL) has announced a postponement to the start of construction of its mixed oxide (MOX) fuel plant and a delay in installing new centrifuges at its enrichment plant.


The company has requested that Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti) revise its original application for the construction of its MOX fuel plant to allow for a further six month before the start of its construction.


Construction of the J-MOX fabrication facility at Rokkasho had originally been scheduled to begin in 2007, but has been delayed by reviews of seismic criteria. In April, JNFL said that it planned to start work last month, with an expected start-up date of June 2015 for the plant, revising the date of 2012 specified in an earlier construction application.


However, JNFL has now informed Meti that it plans to start construction of the plant in May 2010. The target date for the facility's completion remains the same.


Up until 1998, Japanese utilities sent the bulk of their used nuclear fuel to plants in France and the UK for reprocessing and inclusion in new MOX fuel. However, since 1999 they have been storing used fuel in anticipation of full-scale operation of its own reprocessing and MOX fabrication facilities.


In June, Japan's Federation of Electric Power Companies (Fepco) announced the country's plans for MOX fuel use had been revised. 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.


Meanwhile, JNFL has also requested authorization from Meti for a change to its work plan for its uranium enrichment plant, delaying the installation of the first new centrifuges by four months. Installation of the new Shingata design centrifuges had been scheduled to start this month, but will now begin in April 2010. The start of operation of the enrichment plant, also at Rokkasho, has also been pushed back by six months, from March 2011 to September 2011.


JNFL's Rokkasho enrichment plant began operation in 1992 using indigenous technology and has seven cascades each of 150,000 SWU per year, though only two are operating. Its eventual annual capacity is planned to be 1.5 million SWU. The company is currently testing a lead cascade of its Shingata design, and expects to re-equip the plant with this.


The first of the new centrifuges are to be introduced in two instalments of 75,000 SWU per year. The first half of this will be in operation by September 2011 and the second by March 2012. Additional centrifuges will be added over the following decade to bring total enrichment capacity up to 1.5 million SWU.