IAEA issues report on Japan’s decommissioning program for R&D facilities

June 24, 2021, 9:29AMRadwaste Solutions

Noting the challenges Japan will face in managing the nuclear waste that will be generated from decommissioning 79 of its nuclear research and development facilities, the International Atomic Energy Agency is recommending that the country prepare for delays in the development of disposal facilities and provide appropriate waste storage capacity for the interim period.

The recommendation was one of several that a team of IAEA experts provided to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency after reviewing the agency’s 70-year decommissioning program, called the “Back-End Roadmap,” and contained in the report, ARTEMIS Review of JAEA Back-End Roadmap, which was released on June 22,

While the IAEA team found that JAEA’s road map provides a good basis for future implementation, the team’s recommendations are intended to increase the effectiveness of Japan’s decommissioning and waste management program.

The report was the outcome of an Integrated Review Service for Radioactive Waste and Spent Fuel Management, Decommissioning and Remediation (ARTEMIS) review, requested by Japan’s government, which took place April 12–22.

The work: The 79 nuclear facilities JAEA intends to decommission over the 70-year program include prototype power reactors and research reactors, such as those used for nuclear fuel safety research and heavy ion research, reprocessing and other fuel cycle facilities, and waste management facilities and associated radioactive waste processing and disposal facilities. The program does not cover Japan’s fleet of commercial nuclear power plants or facilities at other research institutes or at universities.

According to the IAEA review team, the current program of decommissioning is concentrated on three main facilities: the Tokai reprocessing plant, the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor, and the Fugen advanced thermal reactor. “These projects, together with associated waste processing and disposal activities, present technical challenges and represent the dominant share of cost and other resource needs during the first phase of decommissioning,” the report said.

The recommendations: Other recommendations and suggestions the IAEA provided for increasing the effectiveness of the JAEA’s road map include the following:

  • Review a range of options to more clearly separate the agency’s organizational and resourcing responsibilities for research and development and decommissioning to strengthen the focus on each mission.
  • Develop an integrated schedule for the entire decommissioning and waste management program, identifying major risks and opportunities and enhancing the methodology for decommissioning cost assessments.
  • Promote an expansion of the range of industrial supplier organizations with appropriate skills to implement decommissioning work, taking a long-term perspective, and implement a framework for ensuring that JAEA personnel have the appropriate skills required to implement the road map.
  • Conduct extensive characterization and sampling of the plants’ main process equipment and cells to build a complete understanding of the nature and quantity of potentially problematic waste.

The IAEA team: The IAEA’s ARTEMIS missions provide independent expert advice from international teams of specialists convened by the agency. The reviews are based on IAEA safety standards and technical guidance, as well as on international good practices.

Due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ARTEMIS review of the road map was held in a hybrid fashion. The review team, comprising eight experts from Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as three IAEA staff members, met in Vienna, Austria, or participated from their home locations when travel was not possible. They held virtual meetings with counterparts in Japan from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and JAEA. Significant analysis was done in the months before the review week, the IAEA said.

Highlighting JAEA’s professionalism in designing and implementing its road map and its commitment to safety in all aspects, the review team said that the agency is in a good position to continue meeting high standards of safe and responsible management of decommissioning and radioactive waste.

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