The next time some idiot tells you that the United States should get into the nuclear reprocessing business, tell them this: Japan is closing its only reprocessing facility because it’s too expensive to be done safely. According to an article in yesterday’s Japan Times:
The Japan Atomic Energy Agency said Monday it will close its nuclear fuel reprocessing plant because it would cost too much to meet tighter safety regulations adopted following the 2011 Fukushima crisis.
Starting full-fledged operations in 1981, the spent-fuel reprocessing plant in the village of Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture, was the country’s first such facility.
It was built as part of the country’s fuel cycle policy, which is aimed at reprocessing all spent nuclear fuel and reusing the extracted plutonium and uranium as reactor fuel.
More than ¥100 billion (over $900 million) would be needed to upgrade equipment and enhance safety to continue operating under the new regulations, the agency said.
The Times article mentions one accident in the Japanese reprocessing facility:
The Tokai plant … was hit by a fire and explosion in 1997, and 37 plant workers were exposed to radiation.
That incident was very bad, but not the worst in Tokai. In 1999, an accident at the neigboring JCO facility resulted in momentary criticality, and led to the death of two workers.