MOX fuel rods arrived at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s (KEPCO’s) exclusive port at the Takahama Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) on September 21, and are meant for use at that plant. The 16 MOX fuel rods shipped had been manufactured in France by Areva NC, and departed from the French port of Cherbourg on July 5. Their route took them around the Cape of Good Hope and through the southwestern Pacific.
Currently 24 MOX fuel rods have been loaded into Unit 3 and four into Unit 4 (both units PWR, 870 MW) at the Takahama NPP. It is thought that KEPCO will load the newly arrived MOX fuel rods into Unit 4 in 2018.
Furthermore, KEPCO placed an order for additional MOX fuel on July 31. It has concluded a contract with Nuclear Fuel Industries (NFI) for the manufacture of 32 fuel rods for Units 3 and 4, and it is reported that Areva NC will be manufacturing these fuel rods under the consignment contract.
It was confirmed on August 13 that water had accumulated to a depth of about 1.8 meters in a building housing emergency diesel generators at the uncompleted Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant owned by Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. The sealant used to fill in the gaps where a pipe runs through a wall into the building from an underground pit outside had deteriorated, allowing rainwater accumulating in the pit to leak into the building. This is an important pipe, carrying in fuel oil, but had not been inspected even once in the 14 years since the building was constructed. During those 14 years, inspections of these pipes were reported as “checked,” when it was another pipe carrying in cooling water that had been mistakenly inspected instead.
At a meeting of examiners held on September 13 at Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which was investigating the plant’s compliance with the new standards, one examiner after another made incisive remarks, such as “At this stage, the facility is not in a condition that would allow approval. The problem is whether it is okay to allow JNFL to carry out reprocessing.” Completion of the facilities, which had been slated for early fiscal 2018, was confirmed delayed for the 23rd time.
[Update] Rain water once again poured into the problematic underground pit at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant on September 18. Moreover, it was confirmed to have flowed into another plumbing pit nearby as well. Rainwater flowed into these pits on the 21st again. The rain appears to have been the result of a typhoon’s influence, but these recurring inundations despite attention being called for each time a typhoon approaches are bringing ever stronger censure from the NRA toward JNFL.
The Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation proposed a method to Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the Japanese government for removal of fuel debris that was generated during the meltdowns of Units 1 to 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP. Retrieval of debris inside the pressure vessels is to be conducted from the upper part of the buildings, but since structural elements will need to be removed first, that will be done later, and priority will be given to recovering debris that fell to the bottom of the containment vessels. For that, from the standpoint of controlling the dispersal of radioactivity and reducing exposures, it would be desirable to fill the containement vessels with water before removing the debris, but this was deemed difficult because holes in the vessels would need to be repaired, and the “aerial method”—leaving the water level low and taking the debris out through the air—was considered pragmatic.
This approach was incorporated in revisions to the Fukushima Daiichi NPP decommissioning roadmap presented by TEPCO and the Japanese government on September 1, but at this point, there is still no information on the precise position, shape, etc. of the debris. This will be continuously reviewed in light of new information as it becomes available in the future.
A proposal for approval of nuclear reactor installment changes to Units 6 and 7 of TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP (both ABWR, 1356 MW) was put forth by the NRA on October 4, upon which a comment solicitation period of 30 days began. The team of examiners compiled a report on the compliance of the facilities and equipment with the new standards, but as TEPCO’s competence as a nuclear plant operator has been questioned and a cautious approach is being urged, the conclusion was put off on September 13 and again on September 20. Appealing to its competence as a nuclear plant operator, TEPCO put forth its “Basic Approach” to ensuring nuclear plant safety on August 25. The NRA held a discussion with TEPCO’s chairman and president at a special session on August 30, where they confirmed that this “Basic Approach” would be considered on par with the application for approval of changes to nuclear reactor installment as evidence on which to base a decision. On September 20, the NRA agreed that the “Basic Approach” would be written into the safety regulations, thus recognizing TEPCO’s competence as plant operator.
Even if approval is granted for the changes to nuclear reactor installment after solicitation of public comments and subsequent procedures go forward, no estimate has been set for restarting the reactors. In Niigata Prefecture, the first meeting of the “Committee to Consider the Effects from Nuclear Accidents on Health and Livelihood,” composed of experts commissioned by the prefecture, was held on September 11. On the 19th, the first meeting of the “Committee to Consider Evacuation Methods in Nuclear Disasters” was held, and they are including the previously established “Technical Committee on Safety Management of Nuclear Power Plants” in their discussions. A “Verification Supervisory Committee” is scheduled to be formed from the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the three committees and other members yet to be appointed, which will summarize their findings. This verification is expected to take about three to four years. Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama of Niigata Prefecture says discussions on reactor restarts can begin after that.