JAPAN Nuclear Fuel Ltd announced yesterday that it was postponing the opening of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant until September 2018.
The company cited regulators’ lengthy inspection procedures and the time needed for safety upgrades.
The delay-plagued plant, initially due to open in 2000, was most recently set to open in March 2016 following a series of technical problems.
The Rokkasho reprocessing plant is intended to separate plutonium from spent fuel for reuse as fuel.
Company president Kenji Kudo told reporters at the company’s headquarters in Aomori, in northern Japan, that a separate plant to produce plutonium-based fuel had also been delayed until 2019.
Japan already has about 47 tons of plutonium — 11 tons at home and the rest reprocessed in Britain and France — but no use for it, with most of its reactor fleet offline since the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant.
The plutonium is used to generate electricity but its presence has raised proliferation concerns as Japan has enough of the radioactive metal to make thousands of nuclear bombs.
While Rokkasho’s delay could be a temporary relief for those concerned about nuclear proliferation, it also means that spent fuel rods already filling up storage pools in Japan have nowhere to go.
Officials are promoting nuclear restarts in part as a way to burn plutonium and reduce the stockpile. In August the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima restarted, marking the end of a nuclear-power-free era in Japan that had lasted nearly two years.