Japan starts operating new centrifuges

Japan Nuclear Fuels Ltd (JNFL) began operating new centrifuges at the Rokkasho uranium enrichment plant on December 28, 2011, reports The Mainichi Daily News. According to the report, the new centrifuges are four to five times more capable than their predecessors. They are expected to produce first enriched uranium in March 2012. The capacity of the first set of new centrifuges is reported to be sufficient to provide one third of LEU required for a 1 GW reactor. This corresponds to about 40,000 SWU/year.

The Rokkasho enrichment plant was shut down in December 2010, after a series of problems with centrifuges of the previous generation. In September 2011, JNFL announced that the scheduled startup of the first set of new centrifuges was pushed back to the end of year because of delays caused by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. The new enrichment facility was expected to reach the capacity of 1,500,000 SWU/year by 2020. At the same time, it is not not yet clear how Japan's enrichment plans will be affected by the reconsideration of national nuclear policy in the wake of the Fukushima reactor accident.