28 Novembre 2015
November 28, 2015
Nov. 28, 2015 - Updated 14:17 UTC+1
Japan's industry minister Motoo Hayashi says the government will continue to pursue its policy of recycling nuclear fuel.
He spoke to reporters after visiting a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village in Aomori Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on Saturday. It was his first visit to the plant since taking office in October.
The facility is a pillar of the government's fuel recycling program. It has suffered a series of problems during test runs. It remains unclear when the plant will start operating.
Observers fear that fuel storage pools at nuclear plants nationwide may become full if more reactors are restarted while the Rokkasho plant remains offline.
Hayashi inspected a central control center and other rooms at the plant. Officials of its operator, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited, briefed him about the reprocessing system and equipment as well as the prospect for the plant's completion.
The schedule of the plant's completion has been postponed by more than 2 years because the Nuclear Regulation Authority has not yet finished its safety screening.
Hayashi told reporters that the postponement will allow the plant to meet new safety requirements introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.
The minister added that he asked the operator to make an all-out effort toward the plant's completion.
The industry ministry has mapped out revisions for the spent nuclear fuel recycling program that call for stronger government involvement to ensure stable management of the troubled program, it was learned Saturday.
According to the outline, a new organization sanctioned and supervised by the government will entrust the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel to Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., which is owned jointly by electric power companies.
The government deemed it necessary that it get more involved in the program as a precautionary measure against possible management difficulties at major power companies when the electricity retail market is fully liberalized in April 2016, sources said.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will hold a panel meeting with experts on Monday where the revisions will be discussed. Based on the discussions, the ministry hopes to submit amendments on related laws to an ordinary session of the Diet next year, the sources said.
Currently, power companies that operate nuclear plants set aside funds for spent fuel reprocessing, which they will tap to make payments to JNFL, based in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.
The revision outline calls for making it mandatory for the power companies to contribute reprocessing funds to the government-authorized organization in accordance with the amount of electricity generated at their nuclear facilities.
The funds will also be used to operate a uranium-plutonium mixed oxide, or MOX, fuel plant JNFL is constructing to process plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel.
The switchover to the revised system is designed so that reprocessing funds can still be collected even if power companies go bankrupt amid intensified market competition after the liberalization of the market goes into effect.
With the nuclear fuel reprocessing and recycling program being led by the new organization, which cannot be disbanded without government authorization, power companies will not be allowed to pull out of the program at their own discretion.
The nuclear fuel recycling program is estimated to cost a total of ¥12.6 trillion and power companies have so far set aside ¥5.1 trillion.
But the completion of the fuel reprocessing plant, which will play a central role in the program, has been delayed until the first half of fiscal 2018, after more than 20 postponements from the initially planned date in 1997.
Still, the industry ministry believes the recycling program is essential.
“A nuclear fuel cycle is very important for Japan, which faces a scarcity of natural resources,” a senior official said.
There is persistent skepticism, however, about the profitability of the project.