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10 December, 2020

Japan’s NRA Recognizes Compatibility of JNFL’s MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant with New Regulatory Standards, Approving Changes

At a regular meeting held on December 9, the Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan (NRA) approved changes to the MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant, owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), about seven years since the application for the examination had first been filed in January 2014.

JNFL made the approval recognizing that the facility, located in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, was compatible with Japan’s new regulatory standards under the Law for the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors (the Reactor Regulation Law).

In July, similarly, the NRA had granted JNFL permission under the law to alter its Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, at which uranium and plutonium will be recovered from spent fuel and recycled as mixed uranium-plutonium oxide (MOX) fuel for use in light water reactors (LWRs).

In the process of approving the MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant, the NRA issued a draft review report on October 7, referring it to the head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and making it open to the public for comments. A total of 545 comments from the public were received, mostly regarding nuclear fuel cycle policy, including prospects for start of operation and specific MOX-fuel-use plans.

Meeting the press after the December 9 regular meeting, NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa also referred to the plutonium supply-and-demand balance presented by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC). Saying that reprocessing and MOX fuel fabrication ought to be treated as “a set,” and that safety and resistance to nuclear proliferation were “both enhanced,” he suggested the need for an early start of the MOX Fuel Fabrication Plant.

The fabrication plant, together with the reprocessing plant, is expected to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2022 (that is, between April 1 and September 30, 2022).

After the decision, JNFL released a comment saying that it would carry out construction with the top priority on safety to let the local residents feel secure, and that the employees of the company and of group companies would make concerted efforts toward completion.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Electric Companies (FEPC) called the approval a “major step forward” toward realizing the nuclear fuel cycle, and said that it would provide JNFL with the “unified support of the power industry.”

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