The most obvious flaw in Japan’s nuclear policy — reprocessing nuclear waste — receives the least attention.The official justification for Japan’s reprocessing program is primarily to save on its uranium consumption. The story goes that reprocessing allows the nuclear plants to use something called ‘MOX fuel’ in its reactors instead of the standard low-enriched uranium (LEU). Yet there are a number of issues with this justification. First, only 16 to 18 of Japan’s 48 reactors can use MOX fuel to produce nuclear power — the rest can still only use LEU. Second, even in the few reactors which can use MOX fuel, these reactors only use MOX fuel in about a third of the entire reactor — again, with uranium making up the rest. Accordingly, even with reprocessing, Japan is still hugely reliant on uranium, with MOX fuel allowing Japan to reduce its uranium dependence by only ten percent at best. More crucially, with only very limited benefit, the costs that Japan’s reprocessing program brings with it are exceedingly high. First, the Federation of Electric Companies of Japan has estimated that the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Aomori prefecture currently under construction will cost the Japanese tax payers a total of 11 trillion yen ($97 billion) over the years (for construction, operation and eventually, dismantling). Second, reprocessing produces reactor-grade plutonium — and the potential for plutonium to be used to create a nuclear bomb — has generated sizable security concerns.
The Diplomat 14th March 2016 read more »