The freighter Pacific Grebe set sail from Britain on Aug. 3 with more than 30 tons of radioactive waste on board. The cargo, Japanese spent fuel reprocessed in the U.K., is returning sealed in 76 stainless steel canisters packed into 130-ton containers. It is set to arrive early next month at Mutsu-Ogawara port in Aomori Prefecture for delivery to Japan Nuclear Fuel’s nearby Rokkasho storage site.

via Unpopular cargo: Radioactive waste shipload coming | The Japan Times Online.

This article contains some interesting facts and figures:

Rokkasho is not designated as a permanent storage site for nuclear waste — despite costing almost ¥3 trillion to build its five facilities on 740 hectares and having 2,450 employees on site. Japan will not have a permanent site operational until the 2040s, according to Yuichiro Akashi, a spokesman for the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan. The group aims to identify a location by 2017, he said. “It’s a tough situation considering how long it takes to build one,” Akashi said. “A final repository is something we can’t do without, so the work will continue.”

Radioactive waste meanwhile is piling up and Rokkasho’s storage space for spent nuclear fuel is more than 90 percent full; it has capacity for 3,000 tons and contains 2,834 tons, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. spokesman Hirotake Tatehana said.

The Pacific Grebe cargo is the second of 11 that will return a total of 900 canisters of waste, each weighing about 400 kg. Japan is now building its own spent fuel processing plant at Rokkasho.For waste from processed spent fuel, Rokkasho can hold 2,880 canisters and has reserve capacity for another 3,000, said Tatehana.

Before Fukushima, Japan’s 54 reactors produced 1,000 tons of spent fuel a year, which after processing would fill Rokkasho’s capacity within four years, according to Bloomberg News calculations.

Japan’s response to the storage space dilemma for spent fuel is the same as the U.S., which is to keep it in reactor buildings.

“Japan has 1,000 tons of spent fuel coming out of reactors every year, and there are seven more years before the spent fuel pools are filled,” said Taro Kono, a Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker and opponent of nuclear power.

“(Tepco) is building a facility that will give us another five years, so after 12 years we have no place to put spent fuel,” said Kono. “At that point nuclear reactors will be shut because there’s no place for the fuel.”

I know what you’re thinking: what about those fast-breeder reactor thingies that create more usable nuclear fuel than they consume and reduce waste? They’ll solve the problem, surely. Maybe.

Another proposed solution to the waste problem is the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor designed to use processed fuel from Rokkasho. That has also experienced an accident and faced repeated delays. In theory, a reactor like Monju would “breed” more fissionable fuel than it consumes and reduce waste. In reality, Monju is not working, the LDP’s Kono said.

“Back in 1967 the government was saying that a fast breeder reactor would be ready in 20 years, in the 1970s they said it will take 30 years. What will happen in 2050 is that they’ll say it will probably be available in 70 years,” he said. “We’re not going to have it, and we know it.”

Monju’s problems have included a fire in 1995 that shut it for 15 years, and in June the atomic energy agency extracted a 3.3-ton fuel-exchange device that had been stuck inside the reactor vessel for about 10 months following a malfunction.

Read the whole Japan Times article here.