Chugoku Electric Power Co, Inc and Kansai Electric Power Co, Inc are to jointly develop the project. After delivering a report to the Kaminoseki Town Council on August 18, Mayor Tetsuo Nishi announced his consent to the geological survey for the construction.
Currently, a viable nuclear fuel cycle, meant to form the foundation for Japan's use of nuclear energy, has not yet been established. Therefore, the availability of such an interim storage facility would be of great significance.
Critical for Stable Energy Supply
The existence of such a facility is essential for the sustainability of nuclear power generation. Furthermore, nuclear power is critical for a stable energy supply in Japan. It is also crucial for the development of a decarbonized society.
Uranium fuel that has finished generating electricity is typically removed from the reactor. Then it is transferred to a spent fuel pool in a nuclear power plant building. That is done to release the residual heat within the fuel.
Under the current nuclear fuel cycle plan, fuel that has been cooled is to be sent to a reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. Unburned uranium and plutonium will be recovered there for reuse as fresh fuel.
However, the completion of that reprocessing plant is far behind schedule. Meanwhile, the amount of spent fuel generated at each nuclear power plant currently in operation continues to increase. Storage pools are approaching their maximum capacities. Meanwhile, a plant can no longer operate once its pools become full.
Safe Management of Spent Fuel
Interim storage facilities are essential for facilitating the restart of nuclear power plants. That is because they can store large quantities of waste during the interval between storage in pools and acceptance at the reprocessing plant.
The amount of heat in the spent fuel to be stored at the interim storage facility will have already been reduced in the storage pools. The fuel is then stored in special sturdy metal containers known as "casks." The casks are then managed with an air-cooling system that uses natural air convection. Such storage is extremely safe in terms of such things as radiation shielding capability.
Urgent Need for Interim Storage and Reprocessing Plant
The Japanese government has proposed such storage as a solution to the ever-increasing problem of spent fuel within its Strategic Energy Plan. The scheme for an interim storage facility in Kaminoseki is also in line with the trend of encouraging greater cooperation among electric power companies.
The Strategic Energy Plan calls for the national government to take the lead in proactively addressing the issue while considering the wishes of the local governments affected. We also wholeheartedly endorse that approach.
There is no doubt whatsoever that interim storage facilities are urgently needed.
But the completion of the reprocessing plant is even more important. We urge the Cabinet of Fumio Kishida to reaffirm this recognition.
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(Read the editorial in Japanese.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun