Japan’s renewed nuclear fuel recycling dream faces obstacles

After finally acknowledging the failure of its fast-breeder reactor, Japan plans to continue pursuing nuclear fuel recycling in a French project, but this program also faces an unclear future.

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Jean-Marie Carrere, manager of the Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) program, said the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) will decide in 2019 on whether to build the fast demonstration reactor.

The decision, he said, will be based on the results of 1 billion euros (about 115 billion yen) in research and development.

Carrere told Japanese reporters in Marcoule, southern France, on Oct. 14 that the CEA has no intention to scrap the ASTRID project, and that it was looking forward to Japan’s financial contributions.

But he did suggest the ASTRID project would require many changes following Japan’s decision to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture.

The CEA, lacking a fast reactor in operation in France, had planned to conduct some of its fuel-burning experiments at Monju.

Carrere indicated the CEA could possibly seek a partnership with Russia, which has a fast reactor the size of Monju.

The money-losing, problem-plagued Monju reactor was one of the pillars of Japan’s efforts to create a nuclear fuel recycling program. The plan was to reprocess spent nuclear fuel to extract plutonium, which would be burned in nuclear reactors.

Fast-breeder reactors, such as Monju, are supposed to produce more plutonium than they burn.

According to Carrere, the concept for ASTRID has been completed, and it is now in its preliminary design phase. If the decision is made to build the reactor, the goal would be to put it into operation around 2030, he said.

The fast reactor is expected to generate 600 megawatts of electricity.

Relevant Cabinet members have discussed Japan’s direction in this field in a “committee for fast reactor development.”

Some expect joint research in the ASTRID project would allow Japan to keep alive its fast reactor research and maintain its nuclear fuel recycling policy, even if Monju is scrapped.

However, a senior science ministry official said in September that Japan could end up serving as a cash cow for the French project.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201611020001.html

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