- Japan HTGR Cleared to Resume Operations
- Japan’s Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plant Gets Safety Review OK’d
- Recent NRC Actions for Two Proposed Interim Storage Sites for Spent Nuclear Fuel
Japan HTGR Cleared to Resume Operations
The Japan Atomic Eergy Agency (JAEA), which operates a 30MWt graphite-moderated helium gas-cooled reactor (HTGR), has received a green light to restart the unit from the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority.
The restart decision marks a a major milestone for the project. It follows the completion of a series of safety upgrades that are designed to prevent fires from starting due to the extremely high emperatures that occur inside the reactor and with the secondardy loop.
The High-Temperature Engineering Test Reactor, whch is an HTGR, has a long history as a reseach platform with the first instance of going critical taking place in late 1998. In 2011 a hydrogen production system as added to the reactor facility. In 2014, three years after the Fukushima disaster, the JAEA applied for a review as to whether the reactor could meet new safety standards.
According to a press statement by the JAEA, “the safety review by the NRA against the new regulatory requirements has confirmed that no fuel damage would occur in the event of a beyond design basis accident such as multiple losses of reactor shutdown functions.”
Commercial Future for the HTGR
Further, the JAEA said that the completion of the safety review will contribute to the development of an internationally recognized safety standard for HTGR type reactors. The agency said that it plans to develop a commercialization plan for the HTGR. It has a collaborative R&D effort to do this in Poland.
In May 2017 Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA, President: Toshio Kodama) and National Centre for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) in the Republic of Poland concluded a memorandum of cooperation in the field of HTGR technologies. In Poland, construction of a practical HTGR (200-350 MW thermal) with heat supply to a variety of industries and a research HTGR (10 MW thermal) are the expected outcomes of the agreement.
Work scope includes efforts to design and build the prototype units and eventually to assess irradiation effects on fuel and material. The use of heat from the reactor at the commercial stage is expected to be focused on its use by various industries as well as for the production of hydrogen.
Japan’s Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Plant
Gets Safety Review OK’d
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on May 13th announced that the nuclear fuel (LWR) reprocessing plant located in Rokkasho, Aomori Province, has successfully completed upgrades that meet the post-Fukushima safety standards that were created following the March 2011 disaster caused by an earthquake and tsunami.
The cost of the original construction and subsequent upgrades to the plant have totaled an astounded $130 billion according to a report in the Japan Times.
The plant, which has a long troubled history of technical problems, is now scheduled to restart in mid-to-late 2022. However, the Mainichi newspaper reported on May 13 that Toyoshi Fuketa, Chairman of the NRA, told the newspaper “it may be a very long time before the plant comes online.”
His statement is based on the fact that while the project broke ground in 1993, and was scheduled for completion four years later, technical issues including problems with vitrification of the waste from reprocessing, and mismanagement of the facilty by its owner Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd., have plagued efforts to start commercial scale capabilities.
However, Fuketa also said on behalf of the NRA, “We believe the facility’s design ensures high safety margins against nuclear accidents.”
He added that an examination of the seismic faults near the reactor have been examined an are deemed not to be a threat to a restart of operations with the new safety features in place.
According to a report in World Nuclear News for May 13, 2020, additional equipment and systems have been installed for the recovery of radioactivity in the event of a severe accident. A new emergency control room is also being constructed at the plant. Additional safety-related countermeasures are also being put in place, such as internal flood protection, strengthening of the seismic resistance of pipework, improving cooling water tower resistance against tornadoes and improving measures against internal fires.
Once it is in operation, the reprocessing plant is expected to be able to handle 800 tonnes per year converting spent nuclear fuel into mixed oxide fuel (MOX) that can be burned in conventional light water reactors (LWR).
MOX fuel for LWRs has an equivalent enrichment level of about 5% U235 and is composed of the plutonium extracted from the spent fuel and the non-fissile uranium U238 that was also part of the original fuel assemblies. Curently, there is a stored inventory of 2,900 tonnes at the site which indicates a nearly four year backlog once it begins operations.
The Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade, ad Industry (METI) had envisioned when it started the project that the plant would supply MOX fuel to up to 18 of the nation’s then 54 nuclear reactors. Since 2011, only four of the 11 operating units are taking taking MOX to use for as fuel for up to one-third of their cores. The MOX fuel is expected to be more expensive than conventional LWR fuel raising the question of demand for it.
In the list that follows the reactors with an asterisk (*) can burn MOX. The nine units that have been restarted in Japan since the Fukushima accident: Ohi-3, Ohi-4, Genkai-3*, Genkai-4, Sendai-1, Sendai-2, Ikata-3*, Takahama-3* and Takahama-4*.
The Monju fast reactor located in Japan’s Fukui Prefecture was also expected to be a key customer for MOX fuel However, it never started full operations after a sodium leak in 1995. It is now being decommissioned.
Japan currently has a total inventory of 45 tonnes of plutonium extracted from a now closed plant at Tokai which halted operations in 2014. According to a report in World Nuclear News, the plant has reprocessed a total of some 1,052 tonnes of used fuel comprising 88 tonnes of fuel from the Fugen ATR, 644 tonnes of boiling water reactor fuel, 376 tonnes of pressurized water reactor fuel and 9 tonnes of fuel from the Japan Power Demonstration Reactor (JPDR).
Japan’s Plutonium Inventory
It isn’t clear how much plutonium was extracted from the spent fuel processed by Tokai plant. What is known is that Japan has a reported inventory of 45 tonnes of plutonium which only nine tonnes are held in storage in Japan.
An estimated 21 tonnes is held in the UK and another 15 tonnes is held in France. The U.S. and other countries have raised concerns about the possible use of the plutonium in nuclear weapons.
However, a 1988 agreement between the U.S. and Japan arranged for the plutonium to be sent to the UK and France to their respective reprocessing facilities until the Rokkasho plant was able to being full operation.
Prior Coverage on this Blog
- New York Times Gets Half the Story on Japan’s MOX fuel Plan
- Japan Says Burning MOX is Key to Reduce Plutonium Stocks
Recent NRC Actions for Two Proposed Interim Storage Sites for Spent Nuclear Fuel
Interim Storage Partners Gets Finding of No Significant Impact in NRC EIS
On May 4th Interim Storage Partners was advised by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) that finding in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) that there will be no discernable negative effects from the proposed project on the environment or natural resources.
Concurrently, the NRC is also conducting a safety and technical review of the application to store up to 40,000 tonnes of spent nuclear fuel at a bone dry, seismically stable site near Andrews,TX. The storage canisters would be transported to the site by rail from operating, decommissioning, and decommissioned commercial nuclear power plants around the country.
The NRC draft EIS assesses the environmental impacts of the entire project, including construction, operation, transportation, and decommissioning. During development of the draft EIS, staff looked at the impacts to land use, geology and soils, surface waters and wetlands, groundwater, ecological resources, historic and cultural resources, environmental justice and several other areas.
A safety evaluation report (SER) and final environmental impact statement (FEIS) are due by the second quarter of 2021. The license application was accepted by the NRC in August 2018.
Interim Storage Partners is a joint project of Waste Control Specialists and the U.S. business unit of Orano, a global nuclear energy firm based on France.
HOLTEC Survives Contentions by Anti-nuclear Groups on its Plans for an Interim Storage Site in New Mexico
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has upheld a 2019 decision by the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board that rejected claims by several anti-nuclear groups that the project is illegal under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act. The NRC said that the law “does not prohibit a nuclear power plant licensee from transferring spent nuclear fuel to another private entity.”
The NRC also rejected contentions made against the use of HOLTEC’s HI-STORM UMAX system for dry cask storage of spent nuclear fuel. The agency said the casks are already “federally certified.”
“Because certified designs are incorporated into our (NRC’s) regulations, they may not be attacked in an adjudicatory proceeding . . . because this would challenge matters already fully considered and resolved in the design certification review.”
According to the Holtec website, the HI-STORM UMAX (Holtec International Storage Module Underground MAXimum Capacity) “is an underground Vertical Ventilated Module (VVM) dry spent fuel storage system engineered to be fully compatible with all presently certified multi-purpose canisters (MPCs) under USNRC CoC 72-1014 (HI-STORM 100 dry cask storage system) and CoC 72-1032 (HI-STORM FW dry cask storage system).”
The license application for the Holtech interim storage site was submitted to the NRC in March 2017 and was accepted by the Commission in February 2018 (USNRC Docket No. 72-1051).
HOLTEC is applying to the NRC for a license to build and operate the interim storage site near Hobbs, NM, for spent nuclear fuel from the nation’s fleet of light water reactors. Like the project site proposed by Interim Storage Partners, the area is bone dry and seismically stable.
Holtec is requesting authorization from the NRC for for the initial phase (Phase 1) of the project to store up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium (MTUs) [9,568 tons] in 500 canisters for a license period of 40 years.
Holtec plans to subsequently request amendments to the license to store an additional 500 canisters for each of 19 expansion phases of the proposed CISF (a total of 20 phases) to be completed over the course of 20 years, to expand the facility to eventually store up to 10,000 canisters of spent nucler fuel.
According to a Federal Register Notice for March 20, 2020, the NRC said the draft EIS for Holtec’s license application includes the preliminary analysis that evaluates the environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternatives to the proposed action.
“After comparing the impacts of the proposed action (Phase 1) to the No-Action alternative, the NRC staff, in accordance with the requirements in part 51 of title 10 of the Codes of Federal Regulations, recommends the proposed action (Phase 1) [emphasis added], which is the issuance of an NRC license for 40 years to Holtec to construct and operate a CISF for SNF at the proposed location. In addition, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) staff recommends the issuance of a permit to construct and operate the rail spur.”
The NRC extended the comment period to Juy 22, 2020, due to the corona virus crisis which may have prevent interested parties from submitting their comments by the original deadline of May 20, 2020.
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