Recyclable-Fuel Storage Company Ltd (RFS) now expects its interim used fuel storage facility in Mutsu, Aomori prefecture, to begin operating in fiscal year 2023 (ending March 2024). Following several previous delays, the facility - construction of which began in 2010 - had been scheduled to start up later this year. However, the construction of additional safety measures is taking longer than expected.
RFS is a joint venture established by utilities Tokyo Electric Power Company and Japan Atomic Power Company in November 2005. It is constructing the Recyclable Fuel Storage Centre (RFSC) to store the highly radioactive fuel assemblies from the utilities' boiling water and pressurised water reactors in dry storage casks until they are reprocessed at the Rokkasho plant, under construction about 50 kilometres away. A mix of recovered uranium and plutonium oxides - where the plutonium is never separated - would then be recycled into fresh mixed-oxide nuclear fuel at the J-MOX nuclear fuel manufacturing plant, alongside Rokkasho.
In March 2007, RFS applied to the Japanese government for a licence to construct the facility. On 27 August 2010, the joint venture announced that it had received approval from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry for the design and construction of the RFSC.
A ground-breaking ceremony for the facility was held four days later. It was originally expected to begin operating in July 2012 with an initial capacity of 3000 tonnes of used fuel, with plans to later increase this capacity to 5000 tonnes. The fuel will be held within steel casks for up to 50 years.
Construction work of the initial storage building was eventually completed in August 2013. However, in December 2013, new safety standards for nuclear fuel cycle facilities based on the lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident were introduced by Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). RFS was required to conduct further assessments for the facility's ability to withstand earthquakes, tsunami, volcanoes and tornadoes. The company submitted its initial design and construction programme document to the NRA in March 2016 and the regulator approved its safety plans for the facility on 11 November last year.
RFS has now announced that the construction of additional safety measures at the RFSC, previously planned to begin in 2019, will not start until 2021. The start of operation of the facility is therefore now expected in 2023, instead of during 2021, as previously planned.