Spent fuel reprocessing options trading
After the release of the strategy document, U. The agreement stipulates, however, that either country could initiate consultations on amending the agreement or replacing it with a new agreement.
Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman and other officials reportedly urged Japan to keep the amount of separated plutonium to a minimum. The United States requested that Japan be flexible in implementing the new energy strategy and not adopt the details specified in the new strategy as a cabinet decision.
Even without a phaseout, separated plutonium in Japan is accumulating faster than it is being used. With no short-term prospect for commercialization of a fast breeder reactor, permanent disposal and the pluthermal fuel cycle are the only ways to eliminate separated plutonium. Yet, not only is Japan just beginning construction of a MOX fuel fabrication facility at Rokkasho, it has no operating reactors slated to burn the fuel.
One worry is that because MOX fuel is more radioactive than low-enriched uranium fuel used in other reactors, an accident involving MOX fuel would be more severe. To date, thermal reactors that have used MOX fuel have used it in only one-third of the core. Since the Fukushima accident, most Japanese nuclear power plants have not been operating. Neither of these units is licensed to use MOX fuel. Between May and July, there were no nuclear power plants in operation in Japan. Kansai decided to use conventional uranium for the Unit 4 once it is restarted.
Meanwhile, Hokkaido Electric Power Company, which had planned to use MOX fuel in Tomari Unit 3, one of the two plants that were shut down last, decided to suspend that plan. Among the plants that were scheduled to use MOX fuel, most are planning to use conventional uranium fuel when they restart, given concerns that use of MOX fuel would cause a further delay in winning approval from local governments to restart operations.
Moreover, one of the major companies promoting the utilization of MOX fuel was Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operated the Fukushima Daiichi plant and is now essentially bankrupt.
Therefore, it is uncertain when the pluthermal cycle will restart. Furthermore, this July, the newly established Japanese regulatory authority is scheduled to issue its new safety standards, which will be tighter than the existing standards. Thus it is unlikely that any power companies will restart reactors before then even with conventional uranium fuel and even less likely with MOX fuel.
With no clear prospect of using MOX fuel, there is no justification to continue reprocessing spent fuel. Nonetheless, it is clear that the scale of nuclear energy use will not support the fuel cycle policy that Japan had pursued for half a century. The new Japanese government should seize the opportunity to change the policy. Separating additional plutonium only contributes to suspicions in neighboring countries that the plant has more to do with Japanese nuclear weapons ambitions than Japanese fuel needs and thus encourages these countries to take matching steps see box , page The spread of reprocessing technology in the region will aggravate the already volatile security situation in East Asia and could lead to a proliferation chain reaction.
South Korea, which currently is negotiating a new nuclear cooperation agreement with the United States, is insisting that Seoul should be granted the same right as Tokyo to reprocess its spent fuel. North Korea has openly declared its possession of nuclear weapons and carried out tests of nuclear explosives made with plutonium from reprocessed spent fuel.
The new Japanese government should immediately announce a moratorium on operation of the Rokkasho reprocessing facility until it determines a long-term spent fuel policy. If the United Kingdom, as anticipated, joins France in planning to burn its separated plutonium in domestic reactors, Japan should seek to negotiate an agreement with those countries to have them burn Japanese plutonium holdings on their territory. Domestically, Japan should either vitrify its current holdings of separated plutonium together with high-level waste or transmute separated plutonium into a more stable and safer form for direct disposal using new technology, possibly with a new type of burner reactor.
After the end of the Cold War, the international community started paying more attention to a growing accumulation of plutonium originating from civilian and military nuclear programs.
Under that guideline, Japanese electric utilities are expected to publish a plutonium usage plan annually, before they separate plutonium from spent fuel.
Nevertheless, the amount of plutonium continues to increase, generating serious concerns inside and outside the country. This proves that the principle of avoiding surplus plutonium is insufficient. Therefore, civil society and nongovernmental organizations have urged the government to take concrete initiatives to reduce the plutonium stockpile. One effect would be on nuclear security. Furthermore, ending the program would contribute to global and regional stability.
A Japanese decision to forgo reprocessing would deprive those countries of a major argument for developing their nuclear fuel cycles, including reprocessing capabilities, and may substantively affect their decisions on that issue.
It is past time for Japan to end a costly, wasteful, and counterproductive nuclear fuel-cycle policy that undermines global and regional security. Miles Pomper is a senior research associate at the center.
The timetable was extended by a decade in the final version of the document. What National Debates Indicate], September 4, , http: Vitrification involves mixing plutonium or nuclear waste with sand or other material to make a glass-like form. In this state, the nuclear waste or plutonium is immobilized and not likely to harm the enviornment or public health.
The following 11 reactors have been licensed to use MOX fuel as part of the pluthermal program: With the aim of developing a constructive proposal on spent fuel management, like-minded members of the DPJ established a study group. For more information on the proposal, see http: Apart from that, the secretary of the study group, Toshiro Ishii, proposed that 17 metric tons of plutonium extracted by the United Kingdom from Japanese spent fuel and stored in the United Kingdom be sold to or accepted by that country.
Published on Arms Control Association https: Masako Toki and Miles Pomper Japan began operations at its first commercial nuclear power plant in Globally, reactors generate about 10, metric tons of spent fuel each year. More than , metric tons of spent fuel is held in storage worldwide, most at reactor sites. About 90 percent of that spent fuel is in storage pools, the remainder is in dry casks.
In addition, the amount of separated plutonium continues to grow internationally because it cannot be consumed as quickly as it is produced; decisions about reprocessing are often disconnected from use of the recovered products. Geological disposal is the internationally accepted strategy for permanently isolating spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. Political and technical difficulties have so far delayed and, in many cases, prevented the construction and operation of any commercial repositories, though programs in several countries are making significant progress.
Meanwhile, spent fuel continues to accumulate in cooling pools with limited storage capacity. On-site dry cask storage is a mid-term but still temporary solution, and reprocessing and recycling still generate significant waste streams that require permanent disposal.
Both storage and disposal programs are needed: Spent nuclear fuel needs to be stored for extended periods of time until the fuel has cooled sufficiently before repositories can begin accepting it — perhaps 40 years or more. In addition, increasingly high burn-up fuel and large dry storage canisters make moving spent fuel stored in such canisters problematic in the short to medium term because the allowable thermal and radiation limits for transportation can be substantially lower than the limits for storage, requiring an extended period of aging before the canisters have cooled down enough to be moved.
In most cases it will be decades before repositories are open and able to accept waste in sufficient quantities to begin to significantly draw down the inventory. The longer spent fuel is stored, the less self-protecting it becomes as the strongly radiating shorter lived isotopes that provide the protection continue to decay, and thus as it becomes less radioactive, the greater security risk it presents.
Therefore high priority should be given to spent fuel storage options in program planning. Consideration should be given to siting interim storage facilities in locations where final disposal might also be feasible; co-location with nuclear power plants has also proven to be a sound strategy in some cases. Despite the well-developed repository programs in Sweden, Finland and France, and encouraging progress towards siting national repositories in the UK and Canada, the vast majority of countries continue to struggle with developing and implementing plans to safely and securely dispose of the waste produced by nuclear power programs.
The lack of spent fuel management options — both interim storage and final disposal — strains the credibility of the nuclear community and undercuts public and political acceptance for all nuclear activities. Continuing along this path is ultimately unsustainable. Thirty years after the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was signed into law mandating the operation of a geologic repository by January 31, , there is no active U.
This has a direct impact on the prospects for nuclear power domestically as well as the U. For all countries, spent fuel presents both a waste management issue and a proliferation and security issue. The decisions that are made on the back end of the fuel cycle activities that could include dry cask storage of spent fuel, shipping of spent fuel to away-from-reactor storage or to a reprocessing plant and, eventually, the final disposal of the spent fuel or the reprocessed high level waste can include sensitive nuclear technologies such as plutonium separation.
Meanwhile inventories of spent fuel continue to accumulate at reactor sites across the globe. Failure to manage these problems threatens national, regional and international security, exacerbates nonproliferation risks, jeopardizes the future of nuclear power and impacts serious efforts to deal with climate change.
Cooperative approaches to spent fuel management offer a number of potential benefits. If combined with a nuclear security regime, they could also enhance security and nonproliferation. Many countries facing storage and final disposal siting challenges geologic, financial and political have strong interests in cooperating.
In particular, about half of the countries currently operating nuclear power plants have fewer than five reactors. This means they do not accumulate spent fuel very quickly. Access to a disposal pathway that removes responsibility for spent fuel management may make more sense financially and, in most cases, politically.
Even countries with larger programs may find economic, security, and even political benefits in multinational approaches. Notably, the European Council adopted a legally binding and enforceable European Commission proposal on 19 July which read in part: The creation of cooperative networks and regional frameworks for storage and disposal would be a productive way to pursue spent fuel management, particularly in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan where storage space shortages in spent fuel pools are becoming acute.