October 2000

Power firms flip-flop on nuclear fuel reprocessing

The Japan Times, 16 October 2000

[Posted 16/10/2000]

In a major policy reversal, 10 Japanese electric power companies have decided to have a French firm reprocess depleted nuclear fuel equivalent to 600 tons of uranium, according to industry sources. Previously, it was agreed that all of Japan's spent nuclear fuel would be processed at a controversial plant under construction in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture.

But in a move likely to draw criticism, the companies, which together comprise Japan's major electric power utilities, will negotiate a contract with the French firm Cogema by next spring.

The 10 companies are: Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co., Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Tohoku Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co., Hokuriku Electric Power Co., Chugoku Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Japan Atomic Power Co., a nuclear power venture mainly owned by the utilities.

The companies decided to outsource some of their reprocessing needs to France because the capacity of the Rokkasho plant is limited. If spent fuel is left to accumulate at the plants, some of them might be forced to shut down, they said.

They are also hoping Rokkasho and Aomori Prefecture will let them store highly radioactive waste there that is generated during the process.

The sources said the Japanese firms plan begin shipping the spent fuel to France in 2001. At the same time, they plan to send about 70 workers to Cogema to learn the ins and outs of reprocessing before the Rokkasho plants go online in 2005.

So far, British and French companies have reprocessed 7,700 tons of spent nuclear fuel on behalf of the Japanese electric power industry.

It is estimated that the cost of building the Rokkasho plant will reach 2 trillion yen.

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