JNFL submitted a request to the Nuclear Regulation Authority in January for reviews of the Rokkasho plant to ensure that it meets new safety standards for fuel cycle facilities introduced last December.
According to JNFL, these safety checks are taking longer than first envisaged. It announced on 31 October that reprocessing activities at the Rokkasho plant are now expected to start in March 2016. The plant, in Aomori prefecture, is not expected to reach its full reprocessing capacity of 800 tonnes per year until 2019.
Construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant began in 1993 and was originally expected to be completed by 1997. However, its construction and commissioning have faced several delays. Problems in the locally-designed vitrification plant – where dried out and powdered high-level radioactive waste is mixed with molten glass for permanent storage – have contributed to these delays.
JNFL designed the vitrification unit to go with the reprocessing section supplied by Areva. The Rokkasho reprocessing facility is based on the same technology as Areva’s La Hague plant in France.
In June 2013, Areva signed a new strategic agreement with JFNL to bring the Rokkasho recycling plant into commercial operation, including active testing, the start-up itself, capacity ramp-up and plant optimisation.
Despite the uncertainty over nuclear power’s future in Japan, the country’s waste management policy remains centred on reprocessing before underground disposal.