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News Extra: Scrapping Japan nuclear reprocessing facility will cost $8.9 billion and take 70 years

01 August 2017

The planned decommissioning of the Tokai spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Ibaraki Prefecture will take 70 years and cost taxpayers about 1 trillion yen ($8.9 billion), according to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency. The JAEA submitted its estimate to the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on June 30 for approval.

Tokai nuclear campus: Image: JAEA
Tokai nuclear campus: Image: JAEA

Under the JAEA plan, the immediate task will be to assess the level of on-site contamination, decontaminate facilities and implement measures to secure safety of the site and workers, including enhancing earthquake-resistance of the facilities. That alone would take 10 years.

At the same time, the agency said it would start work to vitrify about 400 cubic metres of high-level radioactive waste liquids, a by-product of the reprocessing process. The processing of uranium and plutonium solutions which are currently in the plant, and vitrification of resulting high level wastes, will continue for the next 20 years.

Total costs during the first 10 years were calculated to come to 217 billion yen. Over the subsequent 60 years, the JAEA said it planned to demolish the facilities and decontaminate buildings at a total estimated cost of 770 billion yen.

That figure was broken down as follows: 250 billion yen to process the radioactive waste materials; 380 billion yen to dispose of the waste; and 140 billion yen to dismantle the facilities. The NRA will first check safety and other issues before reaching a decision. If it gives its approval, the JAEA will start the project.

According to the timetable, the decommissioning work will start from the facilities with the highest radioactivity. The time estimated for dismantling and removal is around 30 years for the main facilities, such as a reprocessing plant that extracts uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel; around 50 years for facilities used in processing high-level radioactive waste or storage facilities including those for tubes used to hold spent fuel; and around 70 years for facilities used to process low-level radioactive waste.

All of these estimates are based on the precondition that there is a disposal site for the waste to be sent. If the selection process for a permanent disposal site is delayed, so may be the decommissioning schedule.

The Tokai reprocessing facilities were constructed at a total cost of 190 billion yen. They started full-scale operations in 1981, and have reprocessed 1,140 tons of spent nuclear fuel since then.

France is among countries that already have experience of dismantling reprocessing facilities, but it would be the first time this is carried out in Japan. The Tokai plant was designed by Saint Gobain Nucléaire (SGN) of France, now part of EDF subsidiary Areva.

Tokai achieved worldwide notoriety in 1999 when a criticality accident occurred at the JCO fuel fabrication facility that led to two fatalities, radiation exposure to over 600 workers and members of the public and a significant traumatisation of the local population. The announcement of the closure of the plant in 2014 came one day prior to the 15th anniversary of the 1999 accident.

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