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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

Japan is the only non-nuclear weapon state which still separates plutonium. Japan has enough plutonium to produce 6,000 nuclear warheads and Rokkasho will allow them to produce even greater amounts of plutonium. Once operational, a further eight tons of plutonium can be separated at Rokkasho every year.

The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant is the first commercial reprocessing plant in Japan. The Plutonium Uranium Reduction Extraction (PUREX) process introduced to this plant has proved high performance in Japan and abroad. Weapons require very pure plutonium, and that is what PUREX delivers. With plutonium of almost any isotopic composition it is technically possible to make an explosive (although designers of military weapons demand plutonium that is at least 93% Pu-239). To reduce the proliferation risk, the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Japan's Aomori Prefecture adopted the Plutonium-Uranium Co-extraction Technology that combines recovered uranium with separated plutonium before denitration.

A reprocessing plant is a nuclear chemical plant that consists of several groups of buildings, vent stacks, cooling towers, and so on. After shearing spent nuclear fuel and dissolving it in concentrated nitric acid, uranium and plutonium are extracted, and high-level liquid waste is separated out and vitrified. Through this process, plutonium is recovered as uranium-plutonium mixed oxide (MOX) at the end of the process, so that the plutonium is never recovered on its own. The maximum capacity of the plant is 800 ton-U/year, enough to reprocess spent fuel produced from about 40 reactors at 1,000 MW class nuclear power plants.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited [JNFL] started constructing the Reprocessing Plant in 1993 and was originally expected to be completed by 1997. However, its construction and commissioning have faced several delays. Problems in the locally-designed vitrification plant - where dried out and powdered high-level radioactive waste is mixed with molten glass for permanent storage - have contributed to these delays. JNFL designed the vitrification unit to go with the reprocessing section supplied by Areva. The Rokkasho reprocessing facility is based on the same technology as Areva's La Hague plant in France.

This commercial-size reprocessing plant has been under construction since 1993 at Rokkasho in Aomori prefecture. The aggregate amount of plutonium to be recovered under existing agreements with overseas reprocessing facilities is estimated at approximately 30 tons. Domestically, upon the start of full-scale operation at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, a little less than 5 tons of plutonium will be recovered annually.

The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant [RRP] will have a capacity to reprocess 800 tonnes of spent fuel a year, with the spent nuclear-power reactor fuel having an average total plutonium content of up to 0.9 per cent.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited is promoting four fuel-cycle businesses--spent fuel reprocessing, high-level radioactive waste interim storage, uranium enrichment, and low-level radioactive waste underground disposal--in Rokkasho-mura in Aomori Prefecture. These businesses are operating with the understanding and cooperation of the local citizens. The ultimate aim is to establish a nuclear fuel cycle in which uranium fuel can be used repeatedly.

JNFL's nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is built with the best available Japanese and foreign technologies, including technologies imported from Britain and France, two countries with rich experience in the operations of commercial spent fuel reprocessing facilities. The reprocessing plant has a maximum preprocessing capacity of 800 tons annually. This is equivalent to the capacity to reprocess spent fuel from 30 one-million-kW class nuclear power plants. Uranium and plutonium recovered from the reprocessing of spent fuel are recycled as quasi-home-grown energy.

In July 1984 the Federation of Electric Power Companies asked Aomori Prefecture and Rokkasho-mura Village for permission to locate nuclear facilities in the village. In April 1985 a basic agreement on the siting of nuclear facilities was concluded. In March 1995 the High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Center went into operation, and in December 1999 the reprocessing business started.

In October 1998 spent fuel from a light-water-reactor power reactor was transported for the first time to the reprocessing plant under construction in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. The spent fuel consisted of 44 fuel assemblies (about 8 tons) from the Fukushima Dai-ni Nuclear Power Plant No.4 Unit (Fukushima Prefecture), the Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc. These fuel assemblies left the port of the above-mentioned power plant aboard a specialized transport vessel "Rokuei-maru" (which displaces about 5,000 tons) in the morning of 01 October 1998, entered Mutsu Ogawara Port early in the morning of 02 October and were transported into the storage pool of the reprocessing plant of the Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. about 7 km away from the port on the evening of the same day.

On 26 April 1999 the Nuclear Fuel Ltd.(JNFL) announced a change in the completion date of its reprocessing plant under construction at Rokkasho in Aomori Prefecture. The completion date was changed from January 2003 to July 2005. The change was due to the following reasons: (1) The estimate of the required construction time due to design changes was insufficient; (2) Evaluation and review activities, which were initially unable to be predicted, were added; (3) Sufficient hours were allowed to conduct a test run step by step. JNFL also announced that the construction cost would be changed from 1,880 billion yen to 2,140 billion yen, based on a review reflecting the past construction contract status as well as the effects of changes of the construction process on the cost.

The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant was steadily accepting spent fuel at its Spent Fuel Storage Facility and was promoting the construction of additional key reprocessing facilities with an eye to complete them in July 2005.

During 2002, the development and implementation of a safeguards approach for the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant in Japan proceeded according to schedule. Major accomplishments included: installation of the On-Site Laboratory infrastructure, including cells, glove boxes and utilities; development and installation of the solution measurement and monitoring system; development of a software design for the data collection and evaluation system; and design information verification during the construction phase.

COGEMA provides operating experience and technological information to help ensure a smooth start-up to operations at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. COGEMA personnel will be based at the plant, where they will liaise with, and provide technical assistance to, on-site JNFL personnel. BNFL Instruments has supplied a state-of-the-art waste drum assay system (WDAS) to Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) for use at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant. The system measures and characterises the plutonium content of 200 litre (55 gallon) plutonium waste drums with very high accuracy and rapidity using passive neutron multiplicity counting combined with advanced waste matrix correction techniques and high resolution gamma spectroscopy.

Preparatory arrangements are under way for the construction of the uranium-plutonium mixed oxide fuel (MOX fuel) fabrication plant in Rokkasho-mura village.

Depleted uranium tests began at Rokkasho in 2004 under protest of anti-nuclear proliferation and environmental groups. The depleted uranium is a less radioactive substance and the tests were a major step toward the plant becoming fully operational.

In 2006, the Rokkasho reprocessing plant began active tests of its systems. The tests were scheduled to run seventeen months and were divided into two stages. The first stage was designed to test the safety and performance of the facility's systems. The second stage was dedicated to test the plant running at full capacity in imitation of regular operation. The tests began in March of that year. By October, there were several reported leaks and accidents, as well as two publically announced radiation exposures to subcontractors working at the plant.

The reprocessing plant was expected to be fully operational by 2007. Operations at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant began in February 2008. In November 2006 the Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. produced it first MOX solution. The total cost of the plant for its planned 40-year life is $125 billion.

After years of delay, Japan completed construction of the Rokkasho commercial-scale reprocessing facility in 2015, although it had yet to begin commercial operation.

Henry Sokolski, executive director at the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, urged the House Foreign Affairs committee to hinder the reopening of the nuclear reprocessing facility in Rokkasho, North Japan. The plant itself was supposed to begin operations in October 2013, but its reactivation was delayed by new safety regulations. The operators of the facility, which, according to the IAEA, has an annual capacity of 800 tons of uranium, or 8 tons of plutonium, say it should be up and running by this October. "If Japan ever decided to open its large reprocessing plant at Rokkasho, it would be producing roughly 2,000 bombs' worth of nuclear weapons-usable plutonium a year," Sokolski told the committee in a hearing in July 2014. "This would almost certainly prompt South Korea to initiate nuclear enrichment or reprocessing of their own as a hedge or weapons option."

After undergoing the water flow operational test, the chemical test and uranium test, by 2016 the plant was in the final stage of the active test. Scheduled completion was the first half of FY 2018.

Following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, new safety standards for power plants were introduced by the NRA in July 2013. In December of that year, new standards came into force that apply to the country's fuel fabrication plants and its reprocessing facilities. Used fuel and radioactive waste storage and disposal facilities are also subject to the revised rules, as are research reactors and nuclear fuel research centers.

On 28 December 2017 Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited announced a further three-year delay in the schedule for completing the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and J-MOX mixed-oxide fuel fabrication plant. The delay was due to additional regulatory requirements. JNFL said the reprocessing plant is now scheduled for completion in the first-half of fiscal year 2021 (ending March 2022) instead of in the first-half of FY2018. Completion of the MOX plant has been put back from the first-half of FY2019 to the first-half of FY2022. The company said that, during the additional three years, safety measures at both the reprocessing plant and the J-MOX fuel fabrication plant would be enhanced.

The Reprocessing Plant is in the stage of "Final Commissioning-Test" and planned to complete its construction in the first half of FY 2021. After undergoing the water flow operational test, the chemical test and uranium test, currently the plant is in the final stage of the active test. In spite of facing various difficulties until now, JNFL brought together knowledge and technology and have gotten over several difficult situations.

On 04 June 2019 Citizens' Nuclear Information Center [CNIC] held a symposium at the Diet Members Building in Tokyo. The three speakers, Frank von Hippel, a research physicist and emeritus professor with the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University; Dr. Kang Jungmin, an independent nuclear analyst who was the Chair of the Korean Nuclear Safety and Security Commission in 2018; and CNICís Matsukubo Hajime each gave detailed talks on the costs and dangers of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel (SNF). All three speakers concluded that the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant would not accomplish its supposed goals of efficient use of resources and waste reduction, and should not operate.

Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

Vitrified Waste Storage Center

The Vitrified Waste Storage Center is a facility designed to safely store and manage vitrified waste packages returned from France and Britain for 30 to 50 years until those packages are ultimately disposed of. Radioactive substances in liquid waste which is a by-product of fuel reprocessing, is mixed with molten glass, sealed, and solidified in special containers. The resultant vitrified waste is then packed in canister, which are transported by sea to the site. On shore the vitrified waste canisters are inspected and measured to confirm that they can be stored and managed safely. Finally, the canisters containing the vitrified waste are stored in the repository. The vitrified Waste Storage Center now has the capacity to store 1,440 canisters; however, the center will be expanded in the future and will ultimately have a storage capacity of approximately to be capable of storing more than 3,000 radioactive waste canisters.

As of the end of February 2001, JNFL had received 464 canisters of vitrified waste returned to Japan after reprocessing overseas. Based on the future schedule for the return of vitrified waste, second-phase construction will be performed to create additional facilities in the Vitrified Waste Storage Building, thereby expanding the capacity of the existing first-phase facilities, which are expected to reach maximum capacity in FY2005.

Rokkasho Uranium Enrichment Plant

The Rokkasho Uranium Enrichment Plant is a centrifuge plant owned and paid for by JNFL. The plant has been operating since 1992, with an initial production capacity of 600 metric tons (MT) SWU (Separative Work Unit, used to state the quantity of uranium-enrichment services) per year. The plant was expanded to 1,050 ton SWU in 1999, with plans to expand to 1,500 ton SWU by 2005, which are about 30% of the needs of Japanese reactors. The JNFL's costs are some 20% or more above Russian and Western European prices. Japan's centrifuges are rather simple, with rotors made of maraging steel and with one unit per centrifuge.

MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant

The MOX fuel fabrication plant was sited within the vicinity of the reprocessing plant in 2005 and was expected to produce 130 tons of MOX fuel per year. JFNL stated that the plant should employee nearly 300 persons and cost approximately 120 billion Yen ($1.007 billion). The main building consists of three underground levels and one above ground floor. The MOX Fuel Fabrication plant is expected to be on-line in April, 2012.

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Page last modified: 10-02-2020 18:42:17 ZULU