Seven years after the Fukushima nuclear plant meltdown, it's now safe to return.
One of issues that plagued the first generation Nissan Leaf EV was the degraded batteries. Otherwise, the original Leaf was an excellent car overall, but owners were rightly frustrated when their EV could no longer provide the juice it once did. To its credit, Nissan allows owners to exchange their depleted EV battery for a refurbished one, thus enabling the vehicles themselves to have a longer lifetime. But what to do with those degraded batteries? Lithium-ion is not exactly recyclable like plastic bottles.
According to Automotive News, Nissan has opened a "first-of-its-kind" processing center in Japan for the specific purpose of recycling those old EV batteries. There's just one kicker: that recycling center is located in a rural region once deemed a radioactive no-go zone following the devastating 2011 earthquake-tsunami that triggered a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. The recycling plant, formerly home to a brake maker, is only 7.5 miles away from Fukushima. However, the Japanese government reopened the strip of land last year, deeming it safe to enter once again following a major decontamination effort.
Nissan will be one of the first companies to return to the region, which currently looks more like a boarded-up ghost town than anything else. Nissan plans to begin selling the refurbished batteries next month for around $2,800, less than half the price of the current cost. The battery swap plan is designed not only to benefit the vehicles' driving range, but also to prevent dropping residual values. The plan is to try out the battery-exchange program in Japan first and assuming all goes accordingly, it'll expand to other markets, such as the US. Eventually, Nissan hopes to refurbish 2,250 battery packs annually at its also newly refurbished facility.