Second quarter of 2003

Big Push For Interim Storage of Spent Fuel in Japan

On 26 June 2003, local authorities are expected to grant approval for the construction of a large spent fuel interim storage facility in the city of Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture, Japan.

WISE-Paris, 18 June 2003

[Posted 19/06/2003]

The move is a further sign of the failure of the Japanese spent fuel management strategy that officially favors reprocessing, plutonium separation and use over the direct storage option for spent nuclear fuel. (1) The currently operating 54 reactors generate some 900 tons of spent fuel per year. In the past, Japanese nuclear utilities had negotiated reprocessing contracts with the two oversea’s companies BNFL (UK) and COGEMA (France). The French contracts are already entirely carried out. Some 20 tons of Japanese plutonium and a large quantity of various types of radioactive waste are still waiting to be shipped back to Japan. The UK contracts are still under way because of constant technical delays in reprocessing operations.

Today, Japanese utilities have to look for other means to manage their spent fuel. (2) A large reprocessing plant with a capacity of 800 tons per year is under construction at the Rokkasho-mura site in Aomori Prefecture. However, repeated delays and vast cost overruns have made the project much less attractive to the utilities. The only parts of the facility that have been put into operation are the spent fuel storage ponds with a total capacity of 3,000 tons. Until 31 May 2003, 779 tons had been delivered. (3)

In order to secure future storage capacity, the nuclear utility Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has launched site investigations in early 2001 near Sekinehama port in Mutsu City. (4) A feasibility study was launched in April 2002 and in April 2003, TEPCO publicly announced its intention to build the facility. TEPCO and other nuclear firms such as the Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) plan to jointly establish a subsidiary that would operate the facility. The projected nominal capacity is 6,000 tons in two separate buildings holding 3,000 tons of fuel in dry storage casks each. TEPCO envisages to use about 4,000 tons capacity for its own fuel, the equivalent of roughly 20 years of spent fuel generation. The construction costs are estimated between 20 and 30 billion yen (145 to 215 million euros).

Citizen groups have expressed criticism of the decision making process and would wish a formal referendum to take place before any decision is taken by the local authorities and the Mutsu mayor. While the facility is designed to hold the fuel up to 50 years, a key concern is that the fuel does not have any final destination and will end up remaining for an unlimited time at Mutsu.

The interim storage facility is supposed to start up in 2010 while the Rokkasho reprocessing plant is scheduled to go on-line in 2005. The two are therefore clearly competing projects.


  1. See also WISE-Paris, Our News, “Japanese Governor remains doubtful over national plutonium policy”, 27 May 2002
  2. See also WISE-Paris, Others’ News: “Radical Change in Japanese Plutonium Policy Upcoming?”, Asahi News Service, 16 July 1999
  3. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd,
  4. See WISE-Paris, Others’ News: “Mutsu OKs plan to store used nuke fuel”, The Asahi Shimbun, 12 June 2003

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