19 Juillet 2018
July 18, 2018
Japan To Continue Fuel Cycle Policy As Nuclear Pact With US Is Extended
18 Jul (NucNet): A nuclear pact between Japan and the US has been automatically extended, allowing Tokyo to continue to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, extract plutonium and enrich uranium.
The bilateral Japan-US pact, which came into force in July 1988, puts Japan in the position of being the only country without nuclear arms that is allowed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, press reports said.
Japan has long limited its nuclear research, development and energy uses to peaceful purposes.
However, there are reports that the US is increasingly concerned about Japan’s growing reserve of plutonium, a material which can be used to create nuclear weapons.
An energy policy plan approved by Japan earlier this month re-endorses using the nuclear fuel cycle, in which plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel at nuclear plants is used to generate power.
But the plan, noting calls from the US, said that Japan will make efforts to cut its stockpile of plutonium, which can be used in making nuclear weapons.
According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (Jaif), Japan holds about 47 tonnes of plutonium. Of that 47 tons, around 10 tonnes were stored within Japan and the remainder in the UK and France as of the end of 2016, according to government data.
Spent nuclear fuel containing plutonium from nuclear power plants in Japan is sent to the UK and France for reprocessing and eventual fabrication into uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) fuel before being returned to Japan.
Most nuclear power plants in Japan remain offline following the 2011 Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear accident and need to pass revised safety regulations before they can be restarted.
The administration of prime minister Shinzo Abe has maintained its pro-nuclear policy, saying that plants able to clear the new stricter safety checks will resume operations.
The energy plan calls for a nuclear share of around 20-22% by 2030. Jaif has said about 30 reactors must be brought back online to meet the target.
Nuclear regulators are also still assessing the safety of a planned spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in northeastern Japan after delays to its commissioning.
When fully operational the Rokkasho plant, a key pillar of the country’s nuclear fuel recycling policy, will be able to produce around eight tonnes of plutonium a year, the Japan Times reported.