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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Japan Prepares for Its First Import of Radioactive Waste Since Earthquake



Japan Prepares for First Radioactive Waste Import

The vessel Pacific Grebe set sail Aug. 3 to Japan from Britain with more than 30 metric tons of radioactive waste on board. Source: International Nuclear Services Ltd. via Bloomberg
Japan is preparing to receive its first import of highly radioactive waste since March, when an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Japan Prepares for First Radioactive Waste Import The vessel Pacific Grebe set sail Aug. 3 to Japan from Britain with more than 30 metric tons of radioactive waste on board. The cargo, Japanese spent fuel reprocessed in the U.K., is returning sealed in 76 stainless steel canisters packed into 130-ton containers. It will arrive early next month at the Mutsu-Ogawara port in northern Honshu for delivery to Japan Nuclear Fuel’s nearby Rokkasho storage site.
About 400 kilometers south of the port, thousands of workers are struggling to contain radiation leaks from the meltdown of three reactors at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. plant, which amounts to 300 tons of waste.
The Fukushima disaster and the voyage of the 5,100-ton Pacific Grebe highlights the dilemma facing Japan and the world’s nuclear industry: Radioactive waste is deadly and needs to be locked away for thousands of years, so how can any storage site be guaranteed safe and permanent?
“It’s a very big problem with no acceptable solution,” said Chris Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster’s school of biomedical sciences, who studied Sweden’s nuclear waste storage proposals. “And more waste is being produced every year.”
The issue ensnared U.S. President Barack Obama in 2009 when he canceled plans to build a permanent repository for nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada due to opposition from local residents and politicians. That was after 20 years of work and an investment of $10 billion.

Not Permanent

Japan’s Rokkasho isn’t designated as a permanent storage site for nuclear waste -- despite costing almost 3 trillion yen ($39 billion) to build its five facilities on 740 hectares (1,828 acres) and having 2,450 staff on site. Japan won’t have a permanent site operational until the 2040’s, according to Yuichiro Akashi, a spokesman for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan. The group aims to identify a location by 2017, he said.
“It’s a tough situation considering how long it takes to build one,” Akashi said. “A final repository is something we can’t do without so the work will continue.”
Meantime, radioactive waste is piling up and Rokkasho’s storage space for spent nuclear fuel is more than 90 percent full; it has capacity for 3,000 tons and contains 2,834 tons, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. spokesman Hirotake Tatehana said.
Rokkasho, three kilometers from the Pacific coast in Aomori prefecture, stores two main types of waste: spent fuel from reactors, and what’s left over after spent fuel is processed to extract uranium and plutonium for reuse. The latter is what’s arriving on the Pacific Grebe.

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