Tag Archives: MOX reactors

Japan’s Nuclear Bombs

On May 13, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority announced that the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, had met new safety standards created after the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami….The Rokkasho plant is a 3.8 million square meter facility designed to reprocess spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s nuclear reactors.  Construction began in 1993. Once in operation, the plant’s maximum daily reprocessing capacity will be a cumulative total of 800 tons per year.  During reprocessing, uranium and plutonium are extracted, and the Rokkasho plant is expected to generate up to eight tons of plutonium annually.

Both are then turned into a mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel at a separate MOX fabrication plant, also located in Rokkasho, for use in commercial reactors. Construction on the MOX facility began in 2010 and it’s expected to be completed in 2022.  Japan had originally envisioned MOX fuel powering between 16 and 18 of the nation’s 54 commercial reactors that were operating before 2011, in place of conventional uranium.  But only four reactors are using it out of the current total of nine officially in operation. MOX fuel is more expensive than conventional uranium fuel, raising questions about how much reprocessed fuel the facilities would need, or want.

The Rokkasho reprocessing plant can store up to 3,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s power plants on-site. It’s nearly full however, with over 2,900 tons of high-level waste already waiting to be reprocessed.

Why has it taken until now for the Rokkasho plant to secure approval from the nuclear watchdog?   Decades of technical problems and the new safety standards for nuclear power that went into effect after the 2011 triple meltdown at the power plant in Fukushima Prefecture have delayed Rokkasho’s completion date 24 times so far. It took six years for the plant to win approval under the post-3/11 safety standards…By the time of the NRA announcement on May 13, 2020, the price tag for work at the Rokkasho plant had reached nearly ¥14 trillion.

Japan is the only non-nuclear weapons state pursuing reprocessing. But as far back as the 1970s, as Japan was debating a nuclear reprocessing program, the United States became concerned about a plant producing plutonium that could be used for a nuclear weapons program.  The issue was raised at a Feb. 1, 1977, meeting between U.S. Vice President Walter Mondale and Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.  “Reprocessing facilities which could produce weapons grade material are simply bomb factories,” noted a declassified U.S. State Department cable on the meeting. “We want to cooperate (with Japan) to keep the problem under control.”

The U.S. oppose the Rokkasho plant’s construction in 1993, following an agreement in 1988 between the two countries on nuclear cooperation. ..The U.S.-Japan nuclear agreement meant the U.S. would give advance consent for Japan to send spent nuclear fuel to the United Kingdom and France — states with nuclear weapons — for reprocessing until Rokkasho was running at full-scale.

Currently, Japan has nearly 45 tons of plutonium stockpiled, including 9 tons held by domestic utilities. Another 21.2 tons is in the United Kingdom and France is holding 15.5 tons under overseas reprocessing contracts.

Thus, Japan finds itself caught between promises to the international community to reduce its plutonium stockpile through reprocessing at Rokkasho, and questions about whether MOX is still an economically, and politically, viable resource — given the expenses involved and the availability of other fossil fuel and renewable energy resources.

Excerpts from Aomori’s Rokkasho nuclear plant gets green light but hurdles remain, Japan Times, May 31, 2020

Nuclear plutonium Live

South Carolina is suing the U.S. government to recover $100 million in fines it says the Department of Energy owes the state for failing to remove one metric ton of plutonium stored there.  The lawsuit was filed on August 7, 2017.

Congress approved fines of $1 million per day for the first 100 days of each year through 2021, beginning 2016, if the weapons-grade plutonium was not removed from the Savannah River Site at the state’s border with Georgia, the attorney general’s office said.   The federal government cannot break its obligations and “leave South Carolina as the permanent dumping ground for weapons-grade plutonium” said in the complaint.

Built in the 1950s, the U.S.-owned Savannah River Site processes and stores nuclear materialss.  A U.S. treaty with Russia in 2000 [The Plutonium Disposition Agreement]* required each country to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium, left over from the Cold War.

The United States began building a mixed oxide fuel fabrication facility, known as the MOX project, at the Savannah River Site to dispose of weapons-grade plutonium by mixing it with uranium to form safer fuel pellets for use in commercial nuclear reactors.  But the project is years overdue and billions over budget, and the technology for the new fuel fabrication is not fully developed. Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2016 pulled out of the plutonium pact amid rising tensions over Ukraine and Syria.  The Trump administration proposed in the fiscal year 2018 budget to scrap the project and pursue diluting the plutonium and disposing it underground, an alternative called for by the Obama administration.

Excerpts from   Harriet McLeod, South Carolina seeks $100 million from U.S. over plutonium removal, Reuters,  Aug. 9, 2017

*through which the United States and Russia agreed to immobilize 68 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium.

Why Japan Likes its Monju: nuclear reactors

Monju  is a Japanese sodium-cooled fast reactor, located in Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant, Fukui Prefecture..  Monju is a sodium cooled, MOX-fueled, loop-type reactor with three primary coolant loops…The reactor has been inoperative for most of the time since it has been built [due to accidents and resulting public suspicion].  On December 8, 1995, the reactor suffered a serious accident. Intense vibration caused a thermowell inside a pipe carrying sodium coolant to break… [T]he sodium was not radioactive. However, there was massive public outrage in Japan when it was revealed that Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC), the semigovernmental agency then in charge of Monju, had tried to cover up the extent of the accident and resulting damage. This coverup included falsifying reports and the editing of a videotape taken immediately after the accident, as well as issuing a gag order that aimed to stop employees revealing that tapes had been edited.

More  Problems

On 16 February 2012 Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agenbcy reported that a sodium-detector malfunctioned.  On 30 April 2013 an operating error rendered two of the three emergency generators unusable.  On Monday 16 September 2013 before 3 a.m. the data transmission of the reactor stopped to the government’s Emergency Response Support System.

Excerpts from Wikipedia

A panel of experts set up by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has begun discussions on what should be done about the Monju reactor. The panel is expected to reach a conclusion by the summer 2016.  Since 2012, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has repeatedly conducted on-the-spot inspections of Monju, which is now operated by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). Every time these inspections were conducted, however, they have identified faulty maintenance checks of the reactor and others that violated related laws and regulations.,Monju’s maintenance and inspection program was drawn up in 2009. What is a serious issue is the program had a large number of defects.About 50,000 pieces of equipment must be inspected at the reactor. Without a carefully thought-out plan, these inspections will be far from smooth. It is crucial to review the maintenance and inspection plan, which is the foundation for ensuring safety…

Under the government’s Strategic Energy Plan, Monju is considered a key research base to reduce the volume of nuclear waste. The development of nuclear reactors similar to Monju is under way in Russia, China and India, as uranium resources can be effectively utilized with the fast breeder reactor.Can Japan afford to stop development of the fast breeder reactor and let these countries lead the way? This is indeed a crucial moment.

New organization needed to regain public trust in Monju management, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan 18, 2015