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Unfinished nuclear fuel reprocessing plant faked safety records: NRA

The firm that owns an uncompleted nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture failed to conduct necessary checks and falsified safety check records relating to the plant, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has reported.

The NRA concluded on Oct. 11 that Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) has violated safety measures after it was learned that the firm failed to carry out the required checks and nevertheless continued to write down "no abnormalities" in safety check records. There has been a spate of incidents such as the flow of rainwater into facility buildings at the plant in the Aomori Prefecture village of Rokkasho.

The plant, which is scheduled to reprocess spent nuclear fuel, was on the verge of hosting a final-stage NRA safety inspection, but the checkup is likely to be postponed considerably as JNFL now has to prioritize in-house inspections of all facilities at the plant.

One of the main roles of a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant is the extraction of reusable uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel, making it a key part of the nuclear fuel cycle. However, the Rokkasho plant has been riddled with problems, and its completion date has been postponed 23 times since the initial planned opening date of 1997. Currently, the plant is scheduled to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2018, but this could be difficult.

In August, it came to light that about 800 liters of rainwater had flowed into an emergency electrical power building at the plant. The cause was the leaking of rainwater from an underground facility. This facility, however, has never been checked since its construction in 2003. JNFL nevertheless gave it a false "no abnormalities" appraisal in its daily records. Furthermore, about 110 liters of rainwater also flowed into the underground facility in September.

Apparently, the firm has tried to clarify the issue by saying that, "The (no abnormalities) comment was referring to another underground facility nearby."

The company plans to complete safety checks at all its Rokkasho plant facilities within the year, and then submit the results to the NRA -- with the intention of inviting the NRA to resume safety inspections of the plant.

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