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Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy suffers another setback

Completion of key facility delayed yet again amid charges of sloppy management

TOKYO/AOMORI — Japan’s central government is finding itself in a bind over its long-standing nuclear fuel cycle policy, due to repeated delays in the completion of a key facility, two and a half decades after construction work began.

The policy suffered another setback recently as Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. unveiled plans to delay by three years the completion of its spent-nuclear-fuel reprocessing plant under construction in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho.

JNFL said late last year that the plant is now scheduled to be completed during the first half of fiscal 2021, beginning in April 2021, instead of during the first half of fiscal 2018 as previously planned.

Construction work on the plant began in 1993, with completion initially planned for 1997. Almost 25 years later, the plant has yet to go online, despite the more than 2 trillion yen ($17.9 billion) that has already been spent.

Japan is resource-poor and imports almost all of its oil, mostly from the politically volatile Middle East. The country has pinned its hopes on the nuclear fuel cycle policy to enhance its energy self-sufficiency.

The policy specifically calls for reprocessing spent fuel from nuclear power plants, extracting the plutonium and uranium, and recycling them as nuclear fuel.

It faces another major problem. Even if the reprocessing plant eventually goes online, it is still unclear whether Japan will be able to consume all the plutonium extracted from the spent fuel.

Sloppy management

Hiroshige Seko, Japan’s minister of economy, trade and industry, visited the reprocessing plant construction site in Rokkasho on Sept. 20, 2017, and criticized JNFL’s poor management of the plant and other facilities.

“It is quite regrettable. You should take it very seriously,” Seko told JNFL President Kenji Kudo. In response, Kudo bowed and said, “I apologize deeply.”

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

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