Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., operator of the Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, will start extracting plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, so Japan can cut its reliance on oil.
The plant, located in northern Japan, will produce plutonium-uranium mixed oxide fuel, known as MOX, on an experimental basis, after Japan Nuclear Fuel President Isami Kojima signed an agreement with Aomori Governor Shingo Mimura, the government said in a statement today.
Japan spent 2.19 trillion yen ($18.6 billion) building Rokkasho to increase energy security. It's pushing ahead with the project amid international concerns about plutonium extracted from spend nuclear fuel ending up in weapons. In January, six members of the U.S. Congress sent a request to Japan's government not to start test operations at Rokkasho.
``It is a big step forward for Japan to get stable energy supplies,'' Kojima said in a statement. ``We will proceed with the project while placing a priority on safety.''
The company will produce MOX fuel for the first time in Japan as the country seeks to revive the project, which was stalled after accidents at nuclear power plants and revelations that utilities had falsified safety data aroused safety concern.
Japan Nuclear Fuel today said it is still waiting for approval from Misawa city and towns neighboring Rokkasho and expects to start recycling fuel as early as the end of this month.
Japanese power producers including Tokyo Electric Power Co., the nation's largest, and Kansai Electric Power Co. plan to use imported MOX fuel in the year starting April 2010 at 16 to 18 reactors nationwide. The utilities expect to start using MOX fuel produced at Rokkasho in the year from April 2012.
Iran has refused to end its uranium enrichment program, prompting the U.S. and Europe to seek sanctions by the United Nations Security Council.
``We firmly believe that the continued extraction of weapons- usable plutonium poses significant and unnecessary threats to international security and non-proliferation,'' the members of Congress said in a statement.
Japan's government on Jan. 27 said it adheres to three non- nuclear principles — nonpossession, nonproduction and nonintroduction of nuclear weapons into Japan — and is internationally recognized as a responsible nation able to handle nuclear material and use it for peaceful purposes.
Japan is the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons.