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JNFL to take radioactive waste out of Aomori facilities if volcanic eruption looks likely

Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) is planning to bring radioactive waste, including spent nuclear fuel, out of its three facilities in Aomori Prefecture that are involved in the nuclear fuel cycle project if it detects signs of a possible volcanic eruption.

    The stipulation is part of the guidelines for action to be taken by the three facilities in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, in response to a possible massive eruption of two volcanoes near the plants, which JNFL unveiled at a screening meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Nov. 11.

    However, there have been no prospects of JNFL securing other facilities to which the radioactive waste can be relocated; JNFL says it will deliberate its options.

    The three facilities in Rokkasho are a nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, a plant for processing spent nuclear fuel into mixed-oxide fuel, and a center for managing storage of highly radioactive waste.

    Pools at the reprocessing facility currently hold some 3,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants across the country, as well as uranium, powdered MOX fuel and vitrified radioactive waste generated through reprocessing. Under the plan, all such substances would be removed from the facilities if signs of a huge volcanic eruption are detected.

    However, pools at atomic power stations across the country holding spent nuclear fuel are almost full, and the Rokkasho facilities are the only ones in Japan where vitrified radioactive waste can be stored.

    There are two volcanoes neighboring the Rokkasho facilities that have caused massive eruptions in the past -- Mount Towada, which straddles Aomori and Akita prefectures, and Mount Hakkoda in Aomori Prefecture. Pyroclastic flows from a Towada eruption have reached the premises of one of the Rokkasho facilities in the past.

    JNFL intends to monitor the volcanic activities of these mountains in an effort to detect signs of a possible eruption. However, numerous experts have pointed out the difficulty of predicting a massive eruption.

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