ROKKASHO, Japan – How is an atomic-powered island nation riddled with fault lines supposed to handle its nuclear waste? Part of the answer was supposed to come from this windswept village along Japan's northern coast.
By hosting a high-tech facility that would convert spent fuel into a plutonium-uranium mix designed for the next generation of reactors, Rokkasho was supposed to provide fuel while minimizing nuclear waste storage problems. Those ambitions are falling apart because years of attempts to build a "fast breeder" reactor, which would use the reprocessed fuel, appear to be ending in failure.
But Japan still intends to reprocess spent fuel at Rokkasho. It sees few other options, even though it will be extracting plutonium that could be used to make nuclear weapons.