Tokai reprocessing plant to shut

29 September 2014

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) will shut its reprocessing plant in Tokai, reportedly due to the costs of modifications required under post-Fukushima safety regulations.

Following a meeting today of JAEA's reform commission, the agency announced that it will permanently shut down the Tokai facility in Ibaraki prefecture.

Tokai reprocessing plant 250 (JAEA)
The Tokai reprocessing plant (Image: JAEA)

The Tokai plant is Japan's oldest reprocessing plant. Construction of the plant began in 1971, with trial operation starting in 1977. The plant entered full operation in 1981 but has stood idle since 2006 when a contract for reprocessing used fuel from commercial power reactors came to an end. The plant was mainly used for processing mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel from the Fugen experimental Advanced Thermal Reactor (ATR), which ceased operating in 2003.

The plant has reprocessed a total of some 1052 tonnes of used fuel comprising 88 tonnes of fuel from the Fugen ATR, 644 tonnes of boiling water reactor fuel, 376 tonnes of pressurized water reactor fuel and 9 tonnes of fuel from the Japan Power Demonstration Reactor (JPDR).

A JAEA spokesman told the Kyodo news agency that it had decided to shut the plant as it would cost too much to upgrade it to meet new safety rules. He said more than Y100 billion ($915 million) would be required to upgrade equipment and enhance safety for the Tokai plant to continue operating.

New safety rules for Japanese fuel cycle facilities came into force in late 2013. 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. At fuel fabrication plants, proper confinement of radioactive material is required, as are severe accident countermeasures for potential criticality accidents. Reprocessing plants need to demonstrate these as well as countermeasures specifically for terrorist attacks, hydrogen explosions, fires resulting from solvent leaks and vaporization of liquid waste.

JAEA said that the first part of the reprocessing process at Tokai, where used fuel is made into solution, will be shut soon. However, the second part, where these solutions are treated, will continue operating for about the next 20 years in order to treat used fuel solution currently stored at the facility.

Some 110 tonnes of unprocessed used fuel is also at the plant. The JAEA spokesman said that this fuel is likely to be sent overseas for reprocessing.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News