Japan - Plutonium Investigation n°2

News !

Word of the month
Yet another inconvenience of MOX
Many shipment to come
Worsening a bad position

Figure of the month

Japan's plutonium inventory practically doubled between 1993 and 1996 from almost 11 tonnes to over 20 tonnes. The largest increase stems from overseas reprocessing in particular at the French La Hague plant. Unfortunately, figures for 1996 are not yet available as detailed as for the other years. However, the evolution of the Japanese plutonium stock is a clear demonstration of the lack of adaptability in the planning departments of utilities and government.

Amount of plutonium, as of end of year
(Kg, total plutonium)

Reprocessing plant
of which
- as nitrate  
- stored as oxide  

MOX fuel fabrication plant
of which
- stored as oxide  
- under test or processing  
- completed fuel                

Reactor sites
of which
- Joyo  
- Monju   637   15   367    
- Fugen   12   53   0    
- Critical assemblies   425   425   425    

Overseas reprocessors
of which
  6,177   8,720   11,378   15,090
- BNFL (UK)   1,266   1,412   1,418    
- COGEMA (France)   4,911   7,308   9,960    
Total   10,881   13,073   16,100   20,122

Source : STA, as quoted by CNIC, Tokyo.

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Word of the month

"It was said that we would send back everything. Therefore we will send back everything. We have started with vitrified waste, because it was the first to be conditioned, and above all because it contains virtually all of the radioactive inventory. It seemed to us that we should start with what represents the essence of the radioactivity. But we envisage sending back everything, moreover, in containers of identical volume and shape. (...) The law prevents [us from keeping the waste] and we respect the law. It is not because anti-nuclear organisations try to make you believe the opposite (...) by constantly repeating erroneous assertions that this is true (for all that). We will send back everything."

COGEMA Boss Jean Syrota on the Return of Radioactive Waste from the Reprocessing Plant at La Hague to Foreign Clients, during a press conference in Paris, on 4 December 1997.

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Yet another inconvenience of MOX

Plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel (MOX) is much more expensive than standard uranium fuel, more complex to use, less safe during reactor operation, etc... Morover, spent MOX fuel requires much more space in an underground storage site. According to an official expert committee, the Permanent Group of Belgian Administration, in a note to the Belgian government: "The [thermal] power output of [spent] MOX assemblies is four times higher than that of UO2 [uranium oxide] assemblies. MOX fuel containers therefore reach higher temperatures, which are close to 200°C. Consequently, it is envisaged to have only one MOX fuel container per underground storage section"... instead of the four containers used for spent uranium oxide fuel. Costly extra space.

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Many shipment to come

Whereas the last spent fuel shipment (according to Japanese utility sources), implicated in current light water reactor fuel reprocessing contracts between Japanese utilities and the French company COGEMA (the so-called base-load-customer contracts) left Japan for Europe, the third "boomerang" transport of high-level radioactive waste left Cherbourg on 21 January 1998. The special cargo ship transports three casks each containing 20 canisters of vitrified high-level radioactive waste. For the first time a ship with this type of radwaste is planned to take the short cut through the Panama Canal. If the promises of the French Government and industry representatives come true (see quote of the month) and all wastes which have been generated by the processing of foreign spent fuel are to be sent back, then this shipment represents only the beginning of a series of several hundred shipments of radwaste to Japan. In fact, while the high active waste contains a large proportion of the radioactivity, the biggest volumes correspond to low and intermediate level wastes - which are still to come. Bonne route !

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Worsening a bad position

The latest shipment of high-level radioactive waste leaves France for Japan exactly three months after the Japanese State company Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (PNC) acknowledged on 24 October 1997 that it had omitted to proceed with legally compulsory safety controls on 93 of the 133 transport casks which were used for the spectacular shipment of 1.7 metric tons of plutonium from France to Japan aboard the Akatsuki-maru in 1992-1993. This omission is only one out of some 1,700 problems, of which 13 have broken the law, identified in an internal PNC report. After a whole series of serious mishaps and accidents, public confidence in PNC is likely to have waned for ever.

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