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February 20, 2007

Japan reprocessing Uranium 95% of nuclear waste

Japan new nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is the best short term solution to nuclear waste.
Japan's Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant can handle 800/tons per year of waste. 95% by weight of the waste is uranium. The plutonium is not isolated at any point in the process so there are no proliferation issues.


Entire construction site

A 2004 government study showed that projected over the next 60 years it would be significantly more expensive to reprocess - at 1.6 yen/kWh, compared with 0.9 - 1.1 yen for direct disposal. This translates to 5.2 yen/kWh overall generating cost compared with 4.5 - 4.7 yen, without considering the implications of sunk investment in the new plant. (2007, 120 yen = 1 US dollar)

English version of the Japanese site

In October 2004 the Atomic Energy Commission advisory group decided by a large majority (30 to 2) to proceed with the final commissioning and commercial operation of JNFL's Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant, costing some 2.4 trillion yen (US$ 20 billion). The Commission
rejected the alternative of moving to direct disposal of spent fuel, as in the USA. This was seen as a major milestone in the joint industry-government formulation of nuclear policy for the next several decades. The final 17-month test phase for the plant began in March 2006, after 13 years construction. Some 430 tonnes of used fuel will be put through the plant to test all aspects of its operation. This will produce some 2.3 tonnes of reactor-grade plutonium (1.6t fissile Pu). The modified PUREX process leaves some uranium with the plutonium product - it is a 50:50 mix, so there is no separated plutonium at any time, alleviating concerns about potential misuse.

If the US built 3 reprocessing plants ($60 billion) instead of Yucca
mountain, the US could reprocess the bulk of the 2000 tons of "waste".
Not much more expensive than Yucca mountain and a better solution.
Hopefully copying what Japan has already done would go faster than the
13 years. However, it shows that a better way is definitely possible.

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