Power companies have resisted government calls to construct safer storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel and are instead waiting for a fuel reprocessing plant to finally start running after nearly two decades of delays.
The utilities say that building dry storage facilities, which hold spent nuclear fuel encased in metal or concrete casks, could prove a waste of money if the Rokkasho reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture begins operations and takes all the spent fuel off their hands.
They also cite concerns in communities that host nuclear reactors that dry storage facilities could lead to permanent storage there.
Under Japan’s basic energy plan approved by the Cabinet in April last year, the central government promotes the construction and use of dry storage facilities.
Shunichi Tanaka, chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, has repeatedly referred to the importance of such facilities, which are deemed safer and less expensive to operate than the traditional method of keeping spent nuclear fuel submerged in storage pools at nuclear plant.
The biggest reason the utilities are hesitant to build dry storage facilities is that the government has kept alive the Rokkasho nuclear fuel reprocessing plant project, despite its many problems.
According to the project, the Rokkasho plant will take in the utilities’ spent nuclear fuel and reprocess it for reuse at nuclear reactors around Japan.
The Rokkasho plant was originally scheduled to open in 1997. However, the start of operations has been delayed 21 times because of technical glitches, human error and safety issues.
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd., operator of the Rokkasho plant, has postponed the completion date to March 2016.