Japanese bill seeks to support reprocessing business

09 February 2016

The Japanese cabinet has approved a bill aimed at "taking measures necessary for the steady implementation of the reprocessing of used nuclear fuel". The bill creates a new entity responsible for reprocessing and introduces a new system for funding it.

Rokkasho (JNFL) 460x246
The Rokkasho fuel cycle centre (Image: JNFL)

At a meeting on 5 February, the cabinet approved the bill "to amend the part of the law on funding and management of the reserve fund for the reprocessing of used fuel in nuclear power generation".

In a statement the same day, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) noted that reprocessing and the use of mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel are key parts of the Basic Energy Plan approved by the cabinet in April 2014. However, the ministry said that with the full liberalization of the country's retail electricity market starting in April, increased competition could have major impacts on business environment surrounding nuclear power. This, it suggests, could mean the reprocessing business may "stagnate" as nuclear operators could struggle to secure the necessary stable funds.

One of the main measures of the recently approved bill is to establish a new "contribution system" for funding reprocessing. Nuclear plant operators will be required to contribute to the reprocessing fund according to how much used fuel they generate.

Currently, Japan's ten power companies deposit fees for future reprocessing with the Radioactive Waste Management Funding Research Centre (RWMC). The fee is JPY0.5 (0.4 US cents) per kilowatt-hour of nuclear electricity generated. This is supervised by the government's Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE). ANRE reported that the fee deposits at RWMC amounted to JPY 2.4 trillion ($21 billion) as of March 2015.

The bill also authorizes a new "authorized corporation" to take responsibility for Japan's reprocessing business.

In addition, it introduces a "proper governance system" in which a steering committee - which could include a third party - is established to make decisions on the authorized corporation's operations.

The government intends to enact the legislation during the current parliamentary session.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) was set up in 1992 to operate the country's nuclear fuel cycle facilities, including uranium enrichment, reprocessing of used fuel, MOX fuel fabrication, and disposal of low-level radioactive wastes. It is a joint stock company by the electric power utilities, with some wider shareholding. JNFL operates a major complex at Rokkasho-mura in Aomori prefecture.

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum noted today that JNFL, "with its accumulated technology and human resources, will continue with the work-site operations, being commissioned by the juridical entity".

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News