Interim Storage Facilities Must Be Secured as Quickly as Possible

For stable operation of nuclear power plants, it is important to reprocess their spent nuclear fuel. For this reason, the central government and electric power companies need to secure facilities to store the spent fuel as soon as possible.

Chugoku Electric Power Co. has proposed constructing a facility in Kaminoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, to temporarily stow spent fuel. The municipal government will consider whether to accept the proposal.

The company originally planned to build a new nuclear power plant in the town, but this objective has been stalled in the wake of the accident that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. In February, the municipal government asked Chugoku Electric to consider a new plan for local revitalization that would replace the proposed construction of the nuclear power plant. In response, the company presented the proposal to build a storage facility jointly with Kansai Electric Power Co.

The understanding of local residents is essential for the construction of facilities related to nuclear power. It is hoped that thorough discussions will be held so as to lead to the creation of jobs and revitalization of the regional economy.

In Japan, where natural resources are scarce, the central government is aiming to implement a nuclear fuel cycle system, in which spent fuel will be reprocessed into newly usable fuel at a plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, and be used again to generate power.

However, there have been delays in putting the reprocessing plant into operation due to safety inspections that require considerable time. In the meantime, the restart of nuclear power plants has progressed, and on-site pools, where spent fuel rods are kept, are running out of capacity at nuclear power plants across the nation.

Removing the fuel from the pools, placing it in special containers and transferring it to interim storage facilities would create storage space at the nuclear power facilities. As this would also lead to the stable operation of nuclear power plants, it is greatly significant.

Kansai Electric is in a particularly tight situation. The company has promised the Fukui prefectural government that it will secure a site to transfer spent fuel from the prefecture by the end of this year in order to extend the operation of its facilities, including the Takahama nuclear power plant, which has been in operation for more than 40 years.

In June, Kansai Electric announced a plan to ship some of its spent fuel to France. Together with the interim storage facility plan, this may be a positive step toward fulfilling the pledge.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc. and Japan Atomic Power Co. have already started building an interim storage facility in Mutsu, Aomori Prefecture. Special containers for spent fuel at the facility are designed to withstand impacts and fire. They do not need special cooling equipment and are considered to be highly safe.

The importance of nuclear power generation has been growing amid rising global fuel prices and the trend toward decarbonization. To make effective use of nuclear power plants, the issue of where to store spent fuel cannot be avoided.

Some local residents undoubtedly have concerns about the construction of interim storage facilities. It is imperative that the central government and the electric power companies make efforts to fully explain the structure and safety of such facilities and seek understanding for their construction in order to alleviate such concerns.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 12, 2023)