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Nissan enters former radioactive zone for battery recycling venture

NAMIE, Japan — Nissan Motor Co. has opened a first-of-its-kind processing center in rural Japan for recycling electric vehicle batteries. The goal is to boost residuals for Leaf EVs and find a secondary market for depleted modules no longer packing enough punch to power a car.

But the lithium ion batteries aren't the only things being recycled there.

The plant site was abandoned by the previous owner, a Japanese brake maker, when the region became a radioactive no-go zone after the 2011 earthquake-tsunami that triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant, 7.5 miles away.

The government reopened the land in March 2017 after decontaminating the area. Nissan is among the first setting up shop in what is still mainly a ghost town of boarded-up businesses, haunting homes and feral farm fields.

The site will be the linchpin in Nissan's new program to let Leaf owners exchange a degraded EV battery for a refurbished and — crucially — cheaper one.

Nissan will start selling batteries refurbished here in May for ¥300,000 ($2,853), less than half of what one currently costs.

By offering an affordable replacement battery, Nissan hopes to stanch the rapid erosion of residual values in the Leaf, a turnoff to first-time as well as repeat buyers.