The Japan Atomic Energy Agency applied to the Nuclear Regulation Authority on June 30 for approval of its plans for decommissioning the Tokai Reprocessing Plant. The plant is located in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture. It was test operated in 1977, and began full operation in 1981, but its utilization rate stagnated. It processed a total of 1,140 tons of spent nuclear fuel (equal to 5.4 years of its claimed processing capacity). The decision to decommission the plant was made in 2014.
The decommissioning will take about 70 years to complete, at a total cost of about 1 trillion yen. That comes to over five times the cost of its construction, which was about 190 billion yen. Seismic reinforcement of the facilities and vitrification of the plant’s high-level radioactive liquid wastes (see below) will take about 217 billion yen; decontamination and dismantling, about 140 billion yen; solidification of low-level radioactive liquid waste, about 250 billion; and the transport and underground storage of radioactive wastes, about 380 billion yen, but the siting of the underground storage has yet to be determined. In addition, as of the end of March 2017, the plant had 272 vitrified high-level waste canisters and 370 m3 of high-level liquid waste, but no place for their underground storage has been found, nor have the costs of that been considered.
Furthermore, the vitrification of high-level wastes has continued to be fraught with problems, resulting in delays and lack of progress. In addition, the plant is storing 265 spent fuel assemblies from the Fugen Prototype Advanced Thermal Reactor in a pool. Those are to be shipped to France, but that has yet to be actualized.
Both the required number of years and the cost estimates have been criticized as excessively optimistic, and the possibility of those being further extended and increased is extremely high.
On June 30, the Nuclear Reprocessing Organization (NuRO) received approval from the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry for the value of the unit contribution that will be levied against utilities in order to pay for reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel (including reprocessing, fabrication of MOX fuel, etc.). The unit contribution is different for each utility, but the amount has been kept in the range of 662-675 yen per gram of spent fuel.
The cost estimate, which the calculations are based on, sets the total cost of reprocessing and transporting back to Japan and managing the high level radioactive waste, which is at present overseas, at 13.9 trillion yen and fabrication of MOX fuel at 2.3 trillion yen.
In 2003, the Federation of Electric Power Companies estimated the costs at 12.1 trillion yen and 1.2 trillion yen respectively. This is a substantial increase, but there is no guarantee that even the revised amount will be sufficient.
The nuclear fuel carrier Pacific Egret departed the port of Cherbourg on July 5, carrying 16 MOX fuel assemblies produced at the Melox fuel fabrication plant in France for Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama Unit 4 reactor (PWR, 870 MW). The fuel contains more than 700 kg of plutonium (total-plutonium). The ship is expected to arrive at the Takahama NPP’s exclusive port in early September.
Toshiba reached an agreement with Southern Company on June 10 on an upper limit to parent company compensation of 3.68 billion dollars over the construction of two reactors (PWR, 1100 MW each) for the A.W. Vogtle Electric Generating Plant in America. The plant’s construction had been ordered by Toshiba’s former subsidiary, Westinghouse. Southern Company will take over management of the project for constructing the NPP, and with the establishment of an upper limit, Toshiba avoids liability for amounts above that. Its negotiations with SCANA Corp. over reactors for the V.C. Summer nuclear plant (PWR, 1100 MW each) were concluded on July 31 with a decision to halt construction and abandon the project on which 9 billion dollars has already been spent.
Trial Begins for Children of Hibakusha
The first round of oral proceedings got underway in the Class Action Suit Seeking Assistance for Second Generation Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) on May 9 in the Hiroshima District Court and on June 5 in the Nagasaki District Court. Thus has this historical legal inquiry into the genetic effects of atomic bomb radiation begun. The suit seeks payment of 100,000 yen per plaintiff as compensation for mental suffering incurred by second-generation hibakusha, deeming the exclusion of second generation hibakusha from assistance for atomic bomb survivors a constitutional violation, and the lack of legislative action by the Diet, which failed to revise the Atomic Bomb Survivors Assistance Act to expand the scope of its applicability to include second-generation hibakusha, a violation of the State Compensation Act. This sum is not intended as compensation for damages, but to make it clear to society through the lawsuit that the problem exists. It signifies a request for legal measures by the state.
There is said to be anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 second-generation hibakusha living throughout Japan, and they have to live with uncertainty over the genetic effects of atomic bomb radiation, which are undeniable. During the 30 years since the establishment of the National Liaison Council of Second-Generation Hibakusha in 1988, it has made requests to the government (Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare) and the Diet for measures to assist second- and third-generation hibakusha. Even now, however, none have materialized. Therefore, as an inevitable means of seeking a resolution in a court of law, 22 second-generation hibakusha filed a class action suit in Hiroshima on February 17 and 25 others filed one in Nagasaki on February 20 this year.
In the first round of oral proceedings in both district courts, the plaintiffs described their health concerns and actual health damage, seeking a ruling that would lead to legal assistance, while the state sought to have their request dismissed.
On July 21 and 22, an underwater robot was able to take photographs of what appears to be melted fuel debris in the containment vessel of Unit 3 of Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. Even so, there is still a very long way to go before the whole picture is understood and these photographs show once again how difficult it will be to recover the melted fuel. The International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning has said it will formulate a plan for removing the melted fuel in Units 1 to 3 by the end of this summer, but there has not been enough information obtained to achieve this goal.