The government’s Basic Energy Plan, updated last week after its first review in four years, features a pledge to reduce the nation’s stockpile of plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel. Today, the plutonium stockpile has reached 47 tons, including 37 tons stored in Britain and France, which have been commissioned to reprocess spent fuel from Japan’s nuclear power plants. The goal of reducing the unused plutonium stockpile was apparently made in view of a concern expressed by the United States, which under a bilateral nuclear pact authorizes Japan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel. Japan is the only non-nuclear weapon state with this authority. Under the elusive nuclear fuel cycle policy, plutonium extracted from spent fuel removed from nuclear reactors is to be converted into plutonium-uranium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel to be used either in fast-breeder reactors or in conventional nuclear plants. But Monju, the nation’s sole fast-breeder reactor and once deemed a prototype for a dream technology for this resource-scarce country because it produces more plutonium than it consumes as fuel, remained mostly idle after it reached criticality for the first time in 1994. It suffered a sodium coolant leak and fire in 1995 and a subsequent series of other problems, until the decision was made in 2016 to finally pull the plug for good. The use of MOX fuel in conventional reactors, deemed a substitute way to consume the plutonium stockpile, has also not proceeded as expected. The government earlier planned to have MOX fuel used at 16 to 18 reactors across the country by 2015. But the restart of nuclear power plants idled in the wake of the 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant remains slow. Only four of the nine reactors that have so far been brought back online are capable of using the costly MOX fuel, and only in small amounts.
Japan Times 7th July 2018 read more »