1. The view of the Japanese Press.
Japan’s nuclear waste problem
Japan Times 21 Jan 2014
The government plans to step up its efforts to select the final disposal site for high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power generation, after having failed to find any willing host community for more than a decade. But the long-stalled process will have little prospect of moving forward unless doubts and questions surrounding nuclear power — including those highlighted by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster — are answered.
In 2000, the government decided that high-level radioactive waste, produced after spent fuel from nuclear power plants is reprocessed, should be vitrified and buried deeper than 300 meters underground. Two years later, it started soliciting municipalities around the country that would volunteer to host a disposal site, offering hefty subsidies in exchange for preliminary research. One town in Kochi Prefecture came forward in 2007, only to withdraw the offer after its mayor resigned in the face of local opposition.
In December, the Abe administration decided that the government, rather than waiting for offers from municipalities, will identify scientifically suitable areas where stored high-level radioactive wastes are deemed safe from the effects of seismic and volcanic activities or underground water, and then approach municipalities in the areas for research as possible candidates for storage sites.
Japan’s nuclear power generation has often been likened to a “condominium without a toilet” due to the lack of a final disposal site for radioactive waste that piles up as more fuel is used for power generation at nuclear plants.
The issue is cited by many as one reason for opposing nuclear power. The Abe administration, in its bid to maintain nuclear energy as the nation’s key source of energy, apparently hopes to accelerate the process to choosing a disposal location.
But the government’s push for expediting the process bypasses all the concerns raised over radioactive waste disposal, including a report by the Science Council of Japan in 2012 that called for a thorough review of the disposal method itself.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has told the Diet that technology for safely burying nuclear waste deep underground has been established, but doubts have been raised as to whether the technology is viable in quake-prone Japan.
The head of the Science Council’s expert panel said it is difficult to predict what changes would occur in the structures of ground layers at a disposal site in the next 100,000 years — the estimated time needed for the radiation emitted by the high-level waste to reach safe levels. It is therefore impossible, he said, to convince people of the safety of the disposal method.
The council observed that disposal site selection was going nowhere because the government pushed ahead with the process without a public consensus on the nation’s nuclear energy policy, including the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste. It urged the government to fundamentally review the disposal method and set a direction of nuclear energy policy that can win broad public support and then specify what amount of radioactive waste needs to ultimately be disposed.
No such discussions seem to have since taken place within the government. Rather, the Abe administration appears bent on seeking a return to the pre-Fukushima disaster nuclear power policy without any public discussions, even though much of the mess from the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns remains unresolved and people continue to harbor fears over the safety of nuclear power, as indicated by media opinion polls.
Japan does need a permanent disposal site for its nuclear waste given that there already exist piles of spent fuel from past nuclear power generation, which will further increase if idled reactors are restarted. We urge the Abe administration to first consider ways to reduce the production of radioactive waste — by decreasing the nation’s reliance on nuclear power as the prime minister has repeatedly pledged — and then review the entire disposal scheme and seek to build a public consensus on the issue. end quote, source as given above.
2. The Japanese Nuclear Industry View.
High-level Radioactive Waste (HLW) Management
The Federation of Electric Companies in Japan
“Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel recovers approx. 95% of reusable uranium and plutonium, and separates out the remaining approx. 5% of high-level radioactive waste.
This means reprocessing of spent fuel can greatly reduce the amount of HLW.
HLW is mixed with melted glass and poured into durable stainless canisters (this is termed vitrified) at the reprocessing plant and then stored at HLW storage facilities for 30-50 years to allow cooling.” end quote.
3. The state of the claimed reprocessing and vitrification method in Japan as described the The Federation of Electric Companies in Japan.
High-level waste arrives in Japan World Nuclear News
23 April 2014 at http://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/High-level-waste-arrives-in-Japan
“The Pacific Grebe, carrying five large flasks holding 132 canisters of waste in vitrified glass form, arrived in Japan yesterday having travelled via the Cape of Good Hope and the south-western Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Grebe is classed as an INF 3 vessel, certified to carry plutonium or used nuclear fuel up to any level of radioactivity. It is owned by Pacific Nuclear Transport Ltd, which is majority owned by International Nuclear Services (INS), itself part of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority that owns the Sellafield site along with all other assets from the UK’s former national nuclear program.
The canisters were unloaded at the port of Mutsu-Ogawara, from where they were transported by road to Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd’s storage facility at Rokkasho-Mura.
The waste originally came from Japanese nuclear power plants, but has been reprocessed at Sellafield’s Thorp facility to reduce its volume and to recover fuel materials for recycle. The waste itself takes the form of a solid borosilicate glass matrix that immobilises highly radioactive fission products. This is held in stainless steel canisters. This form is suitable for permanent disposal and can be handled separately from intermediate-level wastes, which require less complex management, and the recovered uranium and plutonium that can be incorporated into new reactor fuel.
The shipment is the latest in a program to return foreign-owned waste stored in the UK to its country of origin. The Vitrified Residue Return (VRR) program will see waste from UK reprocessing services returned to overseas customers in Japan, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Italy over a ten-year period. This will involve 11 shipments to transfer a total of 1850 canisters. The first shipment was completed in 2010.
France is the other place that Japan can get its used fuel reprocessed. The repatriation of high-level wastes from Japanese fuel reprocessed in France was completed in 2007. Overall the latest shipment was the sixteenth of its type from Europe to Japan since 1995.
INS managing director Mark Jervis said, “This method of transporting radioactive waste is safe, secure and tried and tested.” He added, “We know that with meticulous planning and close working with Sellafield Ltd that we can continue to deliver progress in this long-term program.” end quote, source as given above.
High Level Waste reprocessing in Sellafield today: “Art exhibition to mark end of nuclear fuel reprocessing at Sellafield
More than 20 artists to display work at the Beacon Museum” Friday October 26 2018. at http://www.timesandstar.co.uk/news/Art-exhibition-to-mark-end-of-nuclear-fuel-reprocessing-at-Sellafield-345ce851-62aa-4a04-a43a-4ad3af1dadfe-ds
A unique art exhibition will mark the end of nuclear fuel reprocessing at Sellafield’s Thorp plant.
‘The Art of Reprocessing’ has been commissioned by the site’s operator Sellafield Ltd.
It will celebrate the plant’s contribution to the global nuclear industry.
Running at the Beacon Museum, Whitehaven, from 16 November, it features works by artists from the UK and Japan.
Thorp began operations in 1994. It reprocessed (or recycled) spent nuclear fuel from 34 plants around the world.
It is one of only two commercial reprocessing sites in existence.” end quote.
“Sellafield becoming clean-up plant. The Daily Mail 26 Oct 2018 at https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-193647/Sellafield-clean-plant.html
Sellafield nuclear power station is switching from reprocessing to clean-up, it has been reported.
The British Nuclear Fuels-owned plant will be converted into a waste-handling operation, the man in charge of Sellafield told The Guardian.
There are two reprocessing plants at Sellafield – the Magnox, for fuel from the first generation of British reactors, and the Thorp, that reprocesses fuel from the latest reactors for British and overseas customers.
Brian Watson, director of the site in Cumbria, said: “There is £30bn worth of clean-up work here. We are switching from reprocessing to clean up. We hope that will be seen in a more positive light.” end quote.
Sellafield plant is ‘bankrupt white elephant’ – FF TD – The Irish Times 2004.
4. Apr 6, 2011, 06:00pm Forbes, https://www.forbes.com/forbes/2011/0425/technology-rokkasho-japan-electric-nuclear-disaster.html#53bf386e619b
Japan’s Other Nuclear Disaster
n many ways the 11,000 villagers in Rokkasho, on the northeastern tip of Japan’s main island, are blessed. While other towns in the remote region are run-down and financially strapped, Rokkasho boasts gleaming public buildings, immaculate recreation facilities and free picture-phones in every home. Rare in a land of massive public debt, its government has a $100 million surplus. At $170,000 per capita income is triple Tokyo’s.
The reason for Rokkasho’s good fortune is its decision three decades ago to host a nuclear waste dump, as well as uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing plants. When the plans were hatched in the 1980s, Japan was the economic wonder of the world, and Rokkasho was held up as a “dream project.” Spearheaded by Japan’s political and power industry bosses, it was envisioned as harnessing the nation’s technical and financial prowess to complete the nuclear fuel cycle–a circuit in which conventional nuke plants, fast-breeder reactors and Rokkasho’s recycling facilities would create inexhaustible energy.
These days the dream project looks more like a study in how overwrought ambition and money politics created a financial nightmare. Rokkasho is operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), an industry consortium led by Tokyo Electric Power Co., owner of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant. Up to now it has remained in the testing stage and taken delivery of what is believed to be only a small amount of waste.
The power industry’s plan to send many tons of spent fuel to Rokkasho from its 54 domestic nuclear plants has been scuttled by 18 safety-related delays so far in the start of uranium reprocessing. The delays, in turn, have left Japan’s nuke plants sitting on 13,000 tons of waste. Unless Rokkasho begins reprocessing, they could run out of storage capacity within a matter of years. JNFL now hopes to begin reprocessing in October 2012–after spending another $2.5 billion. Plutonium reprocessing and fast-breeder reactors, which other nations have largely abandoned, are more doubtful still.
That was true even before the Mar. 11 earthquake set off a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima plant, halfway between Rokkasho and Tokyo. Under a nuclear policy review ordered by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Rokkasho is likely to get a close look; one type of fuel it aims to produce, mixed oxides of uranium and plutonium, or mox, was introduced into Fukushima’s No. 3 reactor last year and is a top contamination concern.
One thing that’s not reviewable is the money already consumed by Rokkasho. Costs have exceeded estimates by threefold and stand at $27.5 billion. Billions more would be needed to fulfill its early ambitions.
How did Rokkasho avoid the fate of both Nevada’s stalled Yucca Mountain dump and a plutonium reprocessing plan President Obama killed in 2009? Beginning in the 1980s the power industry harnessed local support for development in a place that village vice chairman Takegoro Takada says was known as “Japan’s Manchuria” for its remoteness.
As Rokkasho boomed doubters were marginalized. Retired fisherman Yosaburo Takada, 86, is one of the few remaining. His antinuke lawsuits went nowhere. His son has been blackballed from jobs. A four-time mayoral candidate, Takada most recently ran in 2002 after the previous mayor committed suicide amid a construction scandal. Takada garnered 170 votes to 5,140 for current pro-nuke Mayor Kenji Furukawa.
“We couldn’t win against the power of the state and money,” Takada says.
Mayor Furukawa and JNFL officials referred queries to pro-nuke village councilman Fumio Takahashi. “Because of Fukushima, antinuclear movements may grow again,” he says, “but we should focus more on safety issues.” That view may be tested even in Rokkasho. Talk is that potentially unstable waste from Fukushima may be sent its way.” end quote. source as above.
5. More problems for Japan’s Rokkasho reprocessing plant
4 September 2018
World Nuclear Engineering online at https://www.neimagazine.com/news/newsmore-problems-for-japans-rokkasho-reprocessing-plant-6732845
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL), which operates the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant under construction in Japan’s Aomori Prefecture, said in late August that it had found a water leak earlier in the month in the pipes of a storage pool at the plant. JNFL found that the pipes were corroded in 20 places and one of them had a hole. The pipes are located outdoors and used for inspections. JNFL believes rainwater had seeped through gaps in insulation materials wrapped around the pipes, but added that the corrosion had no impact on the pool’s operation.
In April, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) resumed its review of the plant after an eight-month suspension. JNFL had applied for a state safety assessment in 2014, hoping to meet the more stringent standards introduced following the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster. The checks are required the plant can begin operating. However they were halted in October following revelations about the JNFLs lax safety management.
In August 2017, about 800 litres of rainwater was found to have seeped into a building housing key emergency power sources because the ageing equipment had not been checked for about 14 years.
This is just the latest in a long series of delays. The plant was originally scheduled for completion in 1997, but the timeline has been pushed back 24 times for various technical reasons. JNFL’s latest timeline had aimed for the plant to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2018, but it said in December that it will have to push back the schedule by three more years. JNFL expects the plant to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2021. The facility is designed to handle up to 800t of used nuclear fuel a year, extracting about 8t of plutonium for re-use in mox fuel.” end quote. Source as above.
Crisis, what crisis? Says the world nuclear advocates. Let’s build 1,500 more reactors around the world by 2050 and solve the problem of nuclear waste globally by 2089. Or 2100. Or something.