Japanese research reactor materials arrive in USA

07 June 2016

A shipment of plutonium and highly enriched uranium from Japan Atomic Energy Agency's (JAEA) Fast Critical Assembly reactor has arrived at two US Department of Energy sites. Japan and the USA announced their commitment to remove the material at 2014 and 2016 nuclear summits.  

The plutonium will be prepared for disposition at the DOE's Savannah River Site (SRS) in South Carolina, prior to eventual disposal at the DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The plutonium will be diluted and packaged to meet WIPP's disposal criteria and other regulatory requirements.

The HEU will be stored at the Y-12 National Security Complex near Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and will ultimately be downblended to low-enriched uranium. Any use of the uranium, or its byproducts, will be subject to the nuclear cooperation agreement among other bilateral agreements between the US and Japanese governments.

The WIPP facility, where military-origin transuranic wastes in sealed drums are disposed of underground in rooms mined out of an ancient salt formation, has been out of action since two incidents in early 2014, including the rupture of a waste barrel which led to a radiological release. A program of recovery actions, including improvements to underground fire safety, radiological risk mitigation, underground stability, ventilation and emergency response capabilities, has been implemented and the facility is expected to resume operations this year. An eight-week program of cold operations, using simulated waste containers to demonstrate the adequacy of WIPP procedures, began on 1 June. The NNSA said that SRS is working to resume plutonium dilution and packaging operations by the end of this year.

DOE under secretary for Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administrator, Frank Klotz, said the removal of the material from Japan represented a "significant accomplishment" in the NNSA's broader global nuclear security efforts to secure HEU and plutonium. Klotz said Japan had been one of the USA's "staunchest allies" in efforts to minimize and, when possible, eliminate, the use of sensitive nuclear materials at research facilities.

"This strong partnership has helped the international community ensure that these materials never find their way into the hands of criminals, terrorists, or other unauthorized actors," he said.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Barack Obama pledged to remove and dispose of all the HEU and separated plutonium from the FCA prior to the start of 2014's Nuclear Security Summit held in the Netherlands. The operation has been conducted under the NNSA's Global Threat Reduction Initiative.

The FCA, which achieved first criticality in 1967, is used for the study of the neutronic characteristics of fast reactors. It has been used by JAEA in the development of both the Joyo experimental fast reactor and the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News