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What options for nukes?

May 17, 2012

 

Panel compiles report on future N-fuel cycle

Following a meeting Wednesday, a subgroup of the Atomic Energy Commission issued a final report outlining options for the future of the country's nuclear fuel cycle.


The subgroup gave its evaluation of the options from seven perspectives, including economic efficiency and the impact of policy changes required for some options, but it stopped short of recommending which option to adopt.


"Any option would involve many tasks, and the government faces a tough choice," Tatsujiro Suzuki, who chairs the subgroup of the Cabinet Office commission, told a news conference after the meeting.


Suzuki said which option to take depends on the nation's future reliance on nuclear energy.


The commission will examine the paper and report the outcome to a panel on the environment and energy under the wing of the National Policy Unit. The paper is expected to influence the government's energy policy to be adopted as early as this summer.


The subgroup calculated costs for three scenarios--complete fuel recycling, partial reprocessing combined with disposal, and complete disposal--with assumed nuclear dependence rates between zero percent and 35 percent in 2030.


If Japan chooses complete recycling, which it currently hopes to realize, uranium consumption would be curbed and the amount of radioactive waste would be the least among the options, according to the report.


But this would be economically inefficient, the subgroup said, adding this option would be difficult unless the country begins full operation of its fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, and develops a practical fast-breeder reactor.


Partial reprocessing would make it necessary for the government to gain support for storage and disposal facilities for spent nuclear fuel, according to the report.


But this option would allow the government flexibility and is considered the best solution if a decision on long-term nuclear energy use will not be reached anytime soon, the subgroup said.


Complete disposal, or burying all spent nuclear fuel underground, would be the best option if the country completely eliminates reliance on nuclear power. This option would be most economically efficient, although the nation would need to research safe fuel disposal technology, the subgroup said.


The organization also presented a possible option of maintaining the status quo until Japan finalizes its policy on nuclear fuel.


This option would give the government time to make preparations for a possible policy change, but would require additional expenses, the subgroup said.


Under this option, the government could choose between starting full operations of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant or dropping the program, according to the report.

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