The nuclear fuel reprocessing plant of Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) in Rokkasho village, Aomori Prefecture, can be seen in this May 14, 2020 file photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun plane. (Mainichi)

TOKYO – Japan was in possession of a total of around 46.1 tonnes of plutonium at home and abroad at the end of 2020, the Cabinet Office told the Japan Atomic Energy Commission ( JAEC) on July 9. This amount represents an increase. of around 0.6 tonnes compared to the previous year.

The JAEC had said the country would reduce its plutonium stocks in accordance with revised guidelines in July 2018, and the amount in its possession has since followed a downward trend. The reported increase was the first in three years.

Plutonium is extracted from spent nuclear fuel generated in nuclear power plants for recycling. However, the international community has expressed concerns about Japan’s large stockpile of plutonium, saying it could be converted into nuclear weapons.

According to the Cabinet Office report, the latest increase in the country’s plutonium stockpile was due to the addition of about 0.6 tonnes which had been stored in Britain after being extracted from nuclear fuel but which had not been included in inventory due to delayed procedures. With plutonium mining in Britain and France complete, Japan has no more unrecorded stocks, according to the report.

Plutonium is mixed with uranium to produce mixed oxide fuel (MOX) for use in nuclear power plants. However, none of the nuclear power plants in Japan used MOX fuel in 2020. As a result, the national stockpile remained at the same level as the previous year, at around 8.9 tonnes.

If the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in the village of Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, enters full operation in fiscal year 2023, Japan’s plutonium stockpile will increase. However, only 0.6 tonnes of plutonium is expected to be extracted from the plant’s spent fuel in fiscal year 2023.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Electricity Companies of Japan (FEPC), which brings together the major national electric utilities, plans to consume 0.2 to 1.4 tonnes of plutonium per year between fiscal year 2021 and 2023. .

JAEC President Mitsuru Uesaka commented, “The stock will be on a downtrend from now on. ”

Following the nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, only four reactors capable of using MOX fuel were restarted, including reactors No.3 and No.4 at Kansai Electric Power’s Takahama nuclear power plant. Co. in Fukui Prefecture. While the FEPC aims to increase the number of these reactors to at least 12 by fiscal year 2030, thus consuming 6.6 tonnes of plutonium per year, there is no prospect of being able to activate other reactors or to see the local communities and the inhabitants give such a movement.

(Japanese original by Ei Okada, Department of Science and Environment News)

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