US top nuke regulator urges back-end effort

US top nuke regulator urges final waste storage effort as Japan finalizes new energy policy

Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) -- The top U.S. nuclear regulator on Friday said nuclear energy users, including Japan, must figure out how to ultimately store radioactive waste.

Allison Macfarlane, head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in Tokyo that finding an underground repository remains a challenge despite a global consensus on the need for such a facility to deal with high level waste coming out of nuclear power plants.

Japan has no final waste repository, not even a potential site. The U.S. government's plan for building a repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been halted by strong local opposition due to safety concerns.

"In the nuclear community we of course have to face the reality of the end product, spent fuel," Macfarlane told reporters.

She urged countries that are contemplating or embarking on a nuclear power program to have back-end plans at an early stage.

Her comment came as Japan is finalizing its new energy policy that reverses a phase-out plan set by the previous government after the March 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The new policy under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pro-nuclear government is pushing to restart as many reactors as possible if deemed safe under the new, stricter safety standards that took effect this summer. The new policy, whose draft was discussed Friday by a government panel, is also expected to stick to Japan's shaky fuel cycle program despite international concerns about Japan's massive plutonium stockpile.

Japan is stuck with nearly 45 tons of plutonium at home and overseas after unsuccessfully pushing to establish a fuel cycle, with its fast breeder reactor and a reprocessing plan never fully operated. Experts say Japan's plutonium stockpile poses a nuclear security threat and raises questions whether Japan plans to develop a nuclear weapon, which Tokyo denies.

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