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Cablegate: Further Delay at Jnfl's Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant

VZCZCXRO7084
PP RUEHFK RUEHKSO RUEHNAG RUEHNH
DE RUEHKO #3299/01 3380755
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 030755Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY TOKYO
TO RUEHFK/AMCONSUL FUKUOKA PRIORITY 1228
RUEHNAG/AMCONSUL NAGOYA PRIORITY 9233
RUEHNH/AMCONSUL NAHA PRIORITY 3589
RUEHOK/AMCONSUL OSAKA KOBE PRIORITY 5019
RUEHKSO/AMCONSUL SAPPORO PRIORITY 1799
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9168
INFO RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TOKYO 003299

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/J, ISN/NESS JAN FLADEBOE, DOE FOR NE-6
CRAIG WELLING, NE-5 CARTER SAVAGE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PARM ENRG TRGY NRR MNUC PUNE JA
SUBJECT: FURTHER DELAY AT JNFL'S ROKKASHO REPROCESSING PLANT

1. (SBU) Summary: Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) is
still experiencing technical difficulties related to its high
level waste vitrification melter at Rokkasho and announced on
November 25 that it will delay the end of its active testing
phase from November to February. Officials at JNFL are still
optimistic testing can be completed by February and expect
regulatory commissioning to take an additional 1 to 2 months
after the end of testing. End summary.

JNFL delays end of testing at Rokkasho
----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Econoffs and DOE attaches met with representatives
of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) to discuss the status of
the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant (RRP) November 21. Yuchiro
Matsuo, Managing Director and Executive General Manager of
JNFL's Corporate Planning Office, gave a presentation
detailing recent technical difficulties with active testing
at RRP and the company's outlook for the future.

3. (SBU) Matsuo noted JNFL was originally scheduled to
finish active testing and begin obtaining regulatory approval
for commissioning in November, but would have to announce a
delay to the schedule due to unresolved technical
difficulties. The President of JNFL announced November 25
that the company is postponing the end of testing from
November 2008 to February 2009. According to Matsuo,
assuming the testing can be completed by February, the
company will begin work finalizing regulatory approvals and
concluding safety agreements with local governments. Matsuo
noted that the company foresees that next step of the process
taking between 1-2 months.

Operational history and technical challenges
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Matsuo provided a run-down of the recent history
of RRP's operation of the high level waste vitrification
melter. In November 2007, the company started producing
vitrified waste. After some canisters had been produced, it
encountered technical difficulties related to the
accumulation of platinum products on the electrodes inside
the melter. JNFL stopped production, cleaned the system, and
developed operational procedures to avoid the problem in the
future.

5. (SBU) In July 2008, JNFL started the process again, and
found another problem in the lower portion of the system,
related to accumulation of the vitrified waste on the heating
coils that surround the flow down nozzle that serves at the
output of the melter. The JNFL stopped production again,
cleaned the system, and determined how to prevent the problem
by adjusting the existing operating parameters such as
temperature.

6. (SBU) The JNFL resumed active testing in October, and
produced 15 batches of product. At this point, JNFL changed
its input material and began including zircalloy fines (small
debris) that result from cutting up the depleted fuel
assemblies. After this change, the system began experiencing
a problem related to the uneven distribution of these fines
within the vitrification chamber. Specifically, JNFL is
observing a reduction in resistance around one set of
electrodes in a region where it believes platinum group
elements are preferentially accumulating. Since the melter
uses resistance heating across the melt, this change in
resistance also reduces the temperature in that region of the
melter. The JNFL has since added a stirring rod that it can
use in emergencies to prevent any material buildup around the
electrodes, but JNFL hopes to be able to solve the problem
using adjustments to the process' operating parameters (heat,
ratio of inputs, etc). JNFL's melter involves complex
controls using interdependent process parameters. Such
startup issues are not unusual for complex systems.

Comparison to the Tokai process
-------------------------------

7. (SBU) When questioned about why this problem is
occurring at Rokkasho and not the Tokai Reprocessing Plant,
where the JNFL reprocessing technology was demonstrated,
Matsuo noted several differences in the waste systems at the

TOKYO 00003299 002 OF 002


two plants are affecting JNFL's results. First, the Rokkasho
system is much larger and thus operates somewhat differently.
Second, the operator at Tokai has not tried to introduce the
zircalloy chips in the vitrification, and simply stores them
on site. Finally, the two processes use a different type of
glass. The Tokai system uses porous cubes that absorb waste
material quickly, while the Rokkasho process uses smaller
glass beads. All of these factors, Matsuo said, result in
new challenges for JNFL compared to the experience at Tokai.
SCHIEFFER

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