Ministry to resume subsidies for stalled pluthermal plan

The Economy Ministry plans to relaunch its subsidy program for areas that house pluthermal generation facilities in an attempt to break the deadlock in the nuclear fuel recycling program.

The funds will be offered by the end of fiscal year 2022.

The pluthermal program is part of the government’s nuclear fuel cycle policy, in which plutonium extracted from spent nuclear fuel produced at power plants in Japan is transformed into mixed plutonium-uranium oxide (MOX) fuel and reused in reactors.

The Federation of Electricity Companies of Japan plans to start pluthermal power generation at 12 or more reactors by FY2030.

But the technology has only been in operation at four reactors: Reactors No. 3 and No. 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture; the No. 3 reactor of the Ikata plant of Shikoku Electric Power Co. in Ehime prefecture; and Reactor No. 3 of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai Power Plant in Saga Prefecture.

By distributing the local revitalization grants, the ministry hopes to accelerate the formation of regional fuel cycle project agreements.

A reprocessing facility operated by Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. in Aomori Prefecture to recover plutonium is expected to be completed in the first half of fiscal 2022, but the processing plant will not be able to be fully operational unless pluthermal production expands.

Unable to expand the use of MOX fuel, Japan now has 46 tons of plutonium locked in storage, raising international concerns about its potential use in nuclear weapons.

Previously, prefectural governments that agreed by fiscal 2008 to join the pluthermic circle could receive up to 6 billion yen ($52.4 million) in grants. Those who accepted before fiscal 2014 were eligible for up to 3 billion yen in grants.

Eight prefectures, including Fukui, Ehime and Saga, received grants. But currently, there are no similar financing mechanisms for local authorities under the pluthermic plan.

The Ministry of the Economy plans to integrate a new system of financing prefectures with reactors that did not benefit from previous subsidy programs.

Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant reactors in Ibaraki Prefecture and elsewhere are expected to be eligible.

Although Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka Power Station in Shizuoka Prefecture and Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane Power Station in Shimane Prefecture are included in the list of past grants, it is unclear when they will be able to restart due to difficulties in passing Screening by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority and obtaining the consent of residents living near the power plants.

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