Japan Finds Itself Backed Into An Atomic Corner

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As Japan begins addressing some of their older nuclear facilities they are discovering the pain other nuclear nations have put themselves in.

The fuel reprocessing plant at Tokai began operating in the 1970’s, some 30 years after the US and UK began their nuclear programs. Officials in Japan are now realizing their facility may be suffering from some of the same short sighted practices.

These are just some of the dangerous conditions found at Tokai:

  • A nuclear waste storage pool with no purification system
  • Corroded barrels of nuclear waste, leaking and entangled in cables
  • Nuclear waste containers with no documentation, no one knows what is in them
  • Liquid waste with a deadly 1500 Sieverts per hour level of radiation
  • Potentially explosive high level nuclear waste

Workers will eventually open these undocumented barrels to see what is in them. This alone could be an extremely dangerous task. Cleaning up the facility is expected to take 70 years. The cost for the first 10 years alone is projected to be $1.92 billion dollars. This facility produced MOX nuclear fuel predominantly from commercial power reactor fuel from Japan’s nuclear power plants. It ceased production in 2006. New safety regulations put in place after the Fukushima disaster caused JAEA to permanently shut the facility. This facility ads to the growing list of nuclear facilities in Japan to face decommissioning.

Japan also has a plutonium problem. The country holds 48 tons of plutonium, enough to make 6000 nuclear bombs. They have been able to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to amass this stash of plutonium under an agreement with the US. This agreement allows them to reprocess nuclear fuel to make MOX fuel. The agreement forbids Japan from using their plutonium for nuclear weapons.

Monju and the foreign MOX program provided plausible excuses to continue possessing the plutonium. Plutonium could potentially be burned in Monju’s reactor. Sending spent nuclear fuel overseas to be turned into MOX provided another excuse that the program was not focused on weapons production. Keeping Monju alive in some manner kept the needed excuse in place. This may be the main reasoning behind starting another fast breeder reactor project in Japan. Even if it were never built, development research could buy Japan 10 years worth of time to avoid dealing with their plutonium issue.

Japan also lacks a viable permanent nuclear disposal facility. Seeing all of these current programs end would force the country to face that problem. As facilities reach end of life, are deemed unsafe or too costly, Japan then has to deal with what to do with them along with proving the country is not becoming a weapons proliferation risk.

 

 

 

 

 

Image Credit | By NifeNife‘s photo, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

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