Newswatch (NIT No. 173)
On June 20, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved extensions of the operational periods of Units 1 and 2 (both PWR, 826 MW) of Kansai Electric Power Company’s (KEPCO) Takahama Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) to 60 years. Despite this being the first time for such extensions to be approved, the NRA made its decision without soliciting public comments. At the time of the approval, more than 41 years had passed since operation of the Unit 1 reactor had begun, and more than 40 in the case of Unit 2. They are slated for restart in the latter half of fiscal 2019, at which time 44 and 43 years will have passed, respectively.
Revisions to the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law were approved in June 2012, but in introducing the 40-year limit on reactor operation, “rare exceptions” were recognized for extending operational periods. Even so, in recognizing “exceptions,” this system is allowing the operators to apply for extensions of operational periods of nuclear reactors already exceeding 40 years from the start of their operation as special cases. Furthermore, these applications for exceptional cases are being approved from the start with no hitches. This clearly violates the spirit of the law.
Even worse, these cases were given priority so that the approvals could be handed down within the prescribed time limits, delaying other investigations. Also, handing out approvals based only on confirmation that “future maintenance management policies are appropriate” for numerous items does not deserve to be called an “investigation.”
Confirming the earthquake resistance of the steam generators, a critically important component of any pressurized water reactor, is being delayed until after construction is completed. There is no guarantee that conformation to inspection standards can be ascertained at that time. In the case of fireproofing of electrical cables, covering them with a sheet is a recognized measure where replacement is not possible, but that leaves all sorts of questions remaining, such as whether the sheet actually covers all of the cables, how the effects of covering them with a sheet can be determined and how maintenance and inspections of sheet-covered cables can be performed.
Preparations have begun for the restart of Unit 3 of Shikoku Electric Power Company’s Ikata NPP (PWR, 890 MW). From June 24 to 27, 157 nuclear fuel assemblies were loaded. Among them were 16 MOX fuel assemblies. Shikoku Electric Power Co. was aiming to restart the reactor in late July, restoring it to commercial operation in mid-August, however this schedule is expected to be majorly extended because on July 17 irregularities were discovered in one of the primary coolant pumps.
In response to this, ten citizens of Ehime Prefecture, where the reactor is located, petitioned the Ehime District Court on May 31 for a provisional injunction, and on June 27, one citizen of Oita Prefecture, across a sea channel from the reactor, petitioned the Oita District Court similarly. On July 4, three persons filed an additional petition.
Unit 1 of Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata NPP (PWR 566MW)+ was decommissioned on May 10. This brings the total number of reactors decommissioned in Japan to 16 (including the prototype ATR “Fugen”) with a combined capacity of 9189 MW.
Shikoku Electric Power Co. held its first meeting to consider research on measures for decommissioning on May 19, with representatives of each of its group companies, the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy, Ehime Prefecture, the Ehime Prefectural Industrial Technology Research Institute, and the Ehime University Social Cooperation Promotion Mechanism participating. The aim was to promote participation by local companies and the university in decommissioning measures as well as to gain PR
The NRA decided on June 20 to recalculate the basic earthquake ground motion for Units 3 and 4 of KEPCO’s Oi NPP (both PWR, 1180 MW). The Fukui District Court handed down a decision to halt operation of these two reactors on May 21, 2014, and KEPCO is appealing the decision, disputing it through the Kanazawa Branch of the Nagoya District Court. In those hearings, seismologist and former NRA Deputy Chairman Kunihiko Shimazaki presented a written statement pointing out concerns that the computing methods used to assess basic earthquake ground motion may have given underestimations.
Later, on June 16, Shimazaki met with NRA Chairman Shun’ichi Tanaka and NRA member Akira Ishiwatari (who has taken over for Shimazaki in charge of earthquake evaluation), saying that the NRA must not overlook these indications. What Shimazaki is concerned about is that using different formulas in computing the scale of earthquakes based on factors such as surface areas of faults can give results greater by factors of 3.5 to 4. Based on data from the Kumamoto earthquakes, Shimazaki is certain that the figures have been underestimated. On July 13 the NRA declared there was ‘no problem’ after examining re-calculated figures, but Shimazaki is still not convinced.
The Diet approved the Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Act on May 11, and a meeting of promoters was held on July 1 for establishment of an implementing body for spent nuclear fuel reprocessing. The Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Act is a law addressing the inability of the reserve fund method presently used for covering reprocessing costs to ensure sufficient funding due to the increasing liberalization of the electric power industry. It mandates contributions from the electric power companies to the reprocessing fund. These contributions will provide funding not only for the Rokkasho reprocessing plant, but also for the next reprocessing plant after Rokkasho as well as MOX fuel processing facilities.
The authorized corporation “Spent Nuclear Fuel Reprocessing Organization,” which will be the main implementing body for the project, is to be established this fall, but the project itself will be entrusted to Japan Nuclear Fuel, Limited (JNFL), who will implement it with no changes from current practices.
The Third-Party Verification Committee established by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to investigate the delay in notifying the public that a core meltdown had occurred at the onset of the Fukushima nuclear accident announced the results of its investigation on June 16. Masataka Shimizu, then TEPCO president, instructed employees not to use the term “core meltdown,” but that is said to be “presumably” due to requests from the prime minister’s office. Shimizu’s memory of this, however, is hazy, and the prime minister’s office denies any consultation whatsoever. Both then Prime Minister Naoto Kan and then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano denied making any such request. TEPCO says it will not order a new investigation.
The Fukushima Prefectural Assembly voted on June 29 to approve a position statement requesting a truth-finding investigation.
A bill to review nuclear fuel taxation was submitted to the Fukui Prefectural Assembly on June 3, calling for taxation of spent fuel accumulating at NPPs in Fukui Prefecture and encouraging its transfer out of the prefecture. It was adopted on June 24. Later it gained the approval of the Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication, and will be implemented from November 10.
The existing Fukui Prefectural nuclear fuel tax was levied at a rate of 8.5% of the value of nuclear fuel at the time of its reactor loading, but with nuclear generation halted, these taxes cannot be collected. For that reason, the law was amended to tax the thermal output capacity of nuclear reactors at a rate of 40,000 yen per 1000 kW.
The current review called for taxing used fuel stored for more than five years at NPPs at a rate of 1000 yen per kg. Meanwhile, taxation of thermal output capacity will continue, but be reduced to half the current rate during the course of decommissioning. This way, a total of 44 billion yen in tax revenues can be expected for the five years following the revision, even with the reactors halted.
Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) concluded a cooperative agreement with Hitachi and Horizon Nuclear Power on July 7 to provide support in the permission and authorization stages for the construction of 2700 MW ABWR reactors by Horizon Nuclear Power, a Hitachi subsidiary in Britain, at the Wylfa Newydd site on the Isle of Anglesey.