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Japan's Pluthermal Plan Delayed

On June 12, 2009 the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPCO) announced a five year delay to Japan's electric power companies' pluthermal plans*. Originally the government and the electric power companies claimed that pluthermal would be implemented in 16-18 reactors by 2010. This has been clearly impossible for many years now, but given the fact that 2010 was only 6 months away, they had little choice but to admit their failure. The new schedule is to implement pluthermal at the same 16-18 reactors by 2015.

The table at the bottom of this page is CNIC's translation of amended plutonium utilization plans for 2009 released by FEPCO at the same time as the anouncement of the five year delay. There are only minor adjustments to the figures in the plans announced on March 6, 2009. However, the commencement date for using the plutonium separated at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant (refer column at the far right of the table) is delayed to 2015 to coincide with a delay in the planned start up date of the Rokkasha MOX Fabrication Facility. It is planned that the plutonium separated at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant will be fabricated into MOX fuel at the Rokkasho MOX Fabrication Plant.

Besides plutonium separated at reprocessing plants in Japan (the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant and the Tokai Reprocessing Facility), Japanese power companies also plan to use MOX fuel fabricated in France from plutonium separated in Europe. Some MOX fuel has been shipped from Europe and more is likely to be shipped in the near future. The first plants to implement pluthermal will use this MOX fuel.

Given that the start up of the Rokkasho MOX Fabrication Plant has been delayed three years and the overall pluthermal plan has been delayed five years, it is only reasonable that operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant should be postponed as well. During active testing of the reprocessing plant, Japan's stockpile of surplus plutonium has continued to grow. The government and the electric power companies have now admitted that they cannot use the plutonium as fast as they said they would. In reality, the reprocessing plant will not be able to operate for some time anyway, due to major problems with the vitrification facility. For reasons of transparency and to avoid further accumulation of surplus plutonium, the government should take this opportunity to officially declare a suspension of reprocessing.

Click here for an analysis of the meaning (or lack thereof) of the 2009 plutonium utilization plans.

Click here for information about the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant.

CNIC's Data Page includes links updates of the plutonium utilization plans of Japan's electric power companies.

* The term 'pluthermal' refers to the use of plutonium in thermal reactors (i.e. light water reactors), as opposed to in fast breeder reactors. The fuel is made from a mixed oxide of plutonium and uranium (MOX).

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