The industry ministry announced that it will include research funds for "direct disposal," in which spent nuclear fuel is buried underground, in its next budget request, sources said.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry plans to incorporate the demand in its budget request for the next fiscal year, which starts April 2013. It will mark the first time the ministry has made the request, they said.
The ministry came up with the plan as the government is likely to review the current “nuclear fuel cycle policy,” in which all spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed for the reuse of plutonium. The review will be described in the government’s new energy policy to be compiled as early as this summer.
According to sources, the government and the electric power industry have been promoting the nuclear fuel cycle policy. However, they were forced to review the policy in response to the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The government has come up with three proposals regarding the ratio of nuclear energy supplying the nation's electricity generation needs as of 2030. The three are “zero percent,” “15 percent” and “20-25 percent.”
In the case of zero percent, it is not necessary to reprocess spent nuclear fuel because nuclear power generation would have been terminated. Therefore, all remaining spent fuel would be buried underground.
In the cases of 15 percent and 20-25 percent, both reprocessing and burial are being considered.
That means burying the spent fuel is an option in all three scenarios.
So far, it has been decided that all spent nuclear fuel will be reprocessed. Therefore, the ministry has not conducted the necessary research in the event burying the spent fuel becomes a viable option. However, it now plans to change that position and will study the safety of spent nuclear fuel that is buried underground. As part of the studies, it will send researchers to Sweden, Finland and other countries, which have already buried spent nuclear fuel.
The government's nuclear fuel cycle policy has promoted a plan where spent nuclear fuel is transported from nuclear power plants to a reprocessing facility in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, to extract plutonium and reuse it as a component of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel.
However, operations have yet to get under way in the reprocessing facility because of a series of mishaps. Because of that, Japan's spent nuclear fuel is currently being reprocessed in other countries.
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