Japanese fuel fabrication plant cleared for restart

06 April 2017

Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has approved the restart of Global Nuclear Fuel-Japan's (GNF-J's) fuel fabrication plant in Yokosuka in Kanagawa Prefecture. Last month the regulator concluded the facility meets revised safety standards.

GNF-J applied to the regulator in April 2014 for an assessment to confirm the Yokosuka plant meets revised safety standards, introduced in December 2013. GNF-J is part of the GE-led Global Nuclear Fuel joint venture with Hitachi and Toshiba, which designs and manufactures fuel for boiling water reactors.

On 8 March 2017, the NRA approved a draft review report confirming that GNF-J's uranium dioxide fuel fabrication facility is compatible with the new standards. The plant became the first fuel cycle facility to be confirmed as meet them.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry approved the restart of the facility on 29 March. At a meeting yesterday, the NRA commissioners gave the final approval needed for the plant to restart. Unlike with power reactors, the NRA said it was not necessary for GNF-J to seek approval from the Japan Atomic Energy Commission or the public to restart the facility.

Following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Japan revised the safety standards that apply to its fuel fabrication plants and its reprocessing facilities. Used fuel and radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities are also subject to the revised rules, as are research reactors (except the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor) and nuclear fuel research centres.

The requirements vary from facility to facility, but generally include reinforcement measures against natural threats such as earthquakes and tsunamis, and in some cases tornadoes, volcanoes and forest fires. The standards require that fuel fabrication plants are able to contain radioactive material in the event of an accident, and have measures in place to prevent accidental criticality events. Reprocessing plants need to demonstrate these as well as countermeasures specifically for terrorist attacks, hydrogen explosions, fires resulting from solvent leaks and vaporisation of liquid waste.

The NRA has allowed Japan's fuel cycle facilities to continue operating, but have until the end of 2018 to undergo inspections to ensure they meet the revised safety standards. However, only a small amount of fuel has been produced as most of the country's nuclear power plants remain offline.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News