Decommissioning the nuclear waste reprocessing plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, will take some 70 years -- 45 to 50 years longer than a regular nuclear plant -- according to a timetable submitted to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) by the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) on Sept. 8.
Among the reasons for the long timeframe are the some 30 facilities at the Tokai plant with "radiation management zones," requiring special expertise to decontaminate and to disassemble equipment. The JAEA also said that the operation will produce large volumes of radioactive waste in many different categories. The agency did not say how much radioactive waste would be produced or how much the decommissioning process would cost.
According to the timetable, the decommissioning work will start from the facilities with the highest radioactivity. The time estimated for dismantling and removal is around 30 years for the main facilities, such as a reprocessing plant that extracts uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel; around 50 years for facilities used in processing high-level radioactive waste or storage facilities including those for tubes used to hold spent fuel; and around 70 years for facilities used to process low-level radioactive waste.
All of these estimates are based on the precondition that there is a disposal site for the waste to be sent. If the selection process for a permanent disposal site is delayed, so may be the decommissioning schedule. The JAEA is to submit a more detailed timetable to the NRA next fiscal year.
The Tokai plant began test operations in 1977, with 1,140 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel reprocessed so far. However, the NRA decided in 2014 to decommission the plant due to the massive estimated cost of quake-proofing the facility and meeting new regulatory standards.