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Japan regulators approve nuclear plant capable of extracting plutonium

Japan's nuclear regulators have agreed work may resume on a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant amid the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
Japan's nuclear regulators have agreed work may resume on a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant amid the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

May 13 (UPI) -- Nuclear regulators in Japan have approved a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant capable of extracting plutonium.

The plant located in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, takes spent fuel from reactors and extracts uranium as well as plutonium that can be reused, Kyodo News reported Wednesday.

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Once in operation, the plant will be able to process as much as 800 tons of spent fuel annually and extract about 8 tons of plutonium, used to produce mixed oxide, or MOX, according to the report. The project is estimated to cost about $130 billion.

Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited is expected to complete work on a new reprocessing plant at Rokkasho by the first half of 2021, with the goal of restarting the plant by January 2022. A review is expected to take a year and may delay completion, however.

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On Wednesday, protesters gathered in Tokyo to voice their opposition to the reopening of the Rokkasho plant, according to Kyodo.

Construction has started and stopped on the plant since 1993. It was slated for completion by 1997. Work on the plant has been delayed 24 times.

Japan Nuclear Fuel came under fire in 2017 for failing to carry out inspections in one area of the plant for 14 years, leading to a ton of rainwater pouring into a structure storing an emergency diesel generator.

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Japan has about 46 tons of plutonium reserves, capable of manufacturing 6,000 nuclear weapons. Large-scale plutonium production is allowed in Japan because it is reused as MOX fuel aimed at closing the gap in Japan's nuclear fuel cycle, according to Nippon.com.

The Cold War was another reason for stockpiling, according to the report.

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