The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) officially recognized the compliance of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO’s) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Units 6 and 7 (both ABWR, 1356 MW) with the new regulatory standards on December 27. However, the governor of Niigata Prefecture, where the nuclear power plant (NPP) is located, is not slackening his opposition to restarting the reactors under the current circumstances, saying, “Verification of the Fukushima accident, the precondition for any discussion of restarting the reactors, will cover a lot of ground, probably taking several years.” (See NIT No. 181 for further details.)
Asserting that it is absurd for the manufacturers of TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi NPP to be relieved of legal responsibility for the accident, about 3,800 people in Japan and abroad have filed a suit seeking compensation from three companies: GE’s Japanese subsidiary, Toshiba and Hitachi. However, on December 8, the Tokyo High Court dismissed the plaintiff’s appeal, upholding the initial decision by the Tokyo District Court on July 13, 2016.. It said that for the purpose of reparation for damages, it was not unreasonable for the Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage to focus responsibility on nuclear power plant operators (not manufacturers) for compensation.
Meanwhile, on November 17, six corporations and three people living in Fukushima and Ibaraki Prefectures filed a new suit in the US District Court in Boston against GE, seeking compensation for damages.
TEPCO has announced that in response to the cancellation of its contract to purchase uranium from Canadian uranium major Cameco on December 18, Cameco is requesting $681.9 million in damages. Initially, the requested amount was only $40 million, but has been raised substantially.
TEPCO had plans to purchase about 4,200 tons of uranium ore from Cameco by 2028, but notified the company in January 2017 that it was cancelling the contract. Saying that this cancellation was invalid, Cameco requested TEPCO either to receive the uranium or pay compensation, and in May, it applied to the International Chamber of Commerce for arbitration. TEPCO is taking the view that the contract can be cancelled with no obligations, and says it will assert the validity of its claim in the upcoming arbitration proceedings.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs conducted a regular release of diplomatic documents on December 20, with diplomatic records from the mid-1980s, particularly 1986, made public. Among other things, it was revealed that an expression of “deep concern over the dangers of radioactivity” in a draft of the G7 Summit Tokyo Declaration was eliminated by participating countries upon agreement with the position of promoting nuclear energy.
On December 31, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) acquired a 19.5% stake in NPP manufacturer Framatome (formerly New NP), which was founded as an affiliate of Electricite de France (EDF) as part of the reorganization of France’s Areva Group. The other investors are EDF, with a 75.5% stake, and Assystem, with a 5% stake. There will be a fifty-fifty ownership ratio between MHI and EDF of ATMEA, which is developing the ATMEA 1 medium-sized nuclear reactor. Framatome will also hold a special share of ATMEA and have fixed rights with regard to supplying equipment for the ATMEA 1.
A formal decision was made to decommission Ohi NPP Units 1 and 2 (both PWR, 1175 MW) at a special meeting of the board of directors of Kansai Electric Power Co. on December 22 (see previous issue’s News Watch for background information). As soon as the preparations are completed, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will be notified.
It has been reported that Japanese government-affiliated financial institutes are to provide loans and insurance for a plan by the major electrical manufacturer Hitachi Corp. to build two advanced boiling water reactors (ABWRs) in the UK.
The UK nuclear power station business company Horizon Nuclear Power (hereafter, “Horizon”), taken over by Hitachi in 2012, has plans to build nuclear power stations each consisting of two to three ABWRs at Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey island and Oldbury in South Gloucestershire. Of the two, the Wylfa plan is going ahead first. In 2016 Menter Newydd (a joint venture of Hitachi Nuclear Energy Europe, Bechtel Management Company and JGC Corporation) was designated as the engineering work provider up to the conclusion of the Engineering, Procurement & Construction (EPC) contract. Additionally, the Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC) and the US major power generating company Exelon Corp. have concluded a cooperation agreement and in 2017 established JExel Nuclear Company to support the Horizon plan. In April 2017, an application was also made for a site license for the construction of two ABWRs. Further, as these are the first instances of ABWRs to be built in the UK, it was also necessary to undergo a generic design assessment (GDA), and the screening process for this was completed in December 2017.
Hitachi has not publicized the total cost of the Wylfa plan, but it is thought that Hitachi intends to provide 10% of the total cost. There have been several reports in the media concerning the cost since the end of 2017, and it is believed that of the total three trillion yen for the project, the Japanese side will contribute 300 billion yen, the UK side 150 billion yen with each country then providing 1.1 trillion yen in loans. It is reported that the Japanese side intends to provide the loans through the government-affiliated Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and private-sector financial institutions, the total sum of which will be insured by Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI – the official export credit agency of Japan). Reports also say that an MoU concerning these financial arrangements was exchanged between the two countries at the end of 2017.
It became possible for JBIC/NEXI to provide loans and insure nuclear power-related projects due to the formulation of “Guidelines for Disclosure of Information concerning Nuclear Power-related Projects” at the end of 2017.
NPP construction projects entail huge costs, and since there are frequently cost overruns during construction, Hitachi explains that “the project will be steadily pushed forward by a unified team consisting of the strongest members” and “we will construct an environment that prioritizes On Budget/On Schedule.” At the same time, however, Hitachi is seeking investors to reduce to 50% or less its current 100% investment ratio in Horizon. Hitachi’s experience in overseas NPP construction is limited to Lungmen Unit 1 in Taiwan, and thus the risk of cost and schedule overruns cannot be said to be low. It seems hard to reconcile Hitachi’s stance of requesting risk assurance from a government-affiliated financial agency with the direction of risk aversion the company itself is taking. Furthermore, having government-affiliated financial institutions provide this huge loan and insure such a high-risk project, means that, should a default occur, it will be the Japanese taxpayers who will pick up the bill.
On January 27, 2018, the Nikkei Shimbun reported that the Japanese government was considering taking over the European uranium enricher URENCO according to some sources familiar with the matter. According to the report, the Japanese government, through the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), wished to obtain at least a majority holding in URENCO jointly with the US Centrus Energy, of which 20 to 30% would be held by JBIC. The cost is estimated at several hundred billion yen.The government denies the report.
URENCO ownership is currently split three ways, between the Dutch government, the UK government, and the German power companies E.ON and RWE, but with the decision by Germany to phase out its NPPs, E.ON and RWE wish to sell their holdings and the UK government is also considering selling its shares. At one time, Toshiba and AREVA, the collapsed French nuclear giant, were also considering purchase.
The joint investment partner Centrus Energy was formerly known as the United States Enrichment Corporation (USEC), which filed for bankruptcy under Title 11 of the U.S. Code due to stagnation in demand for enriched uranium following the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident. Since USEC/Centrus Energy closed down its ageing and inefficient uranium enriching plant in 2013, however, the company has become an intermediary in the import of enriched uranium from Russia and Europe.
According to the report, the reason for the Japanese government’s takeover of URENCO is energy security jitters in the case that Russia or China purchased URENCO. Currently, however, uranium enriching capacity is in surplus vis-à-vis demand and this surplus will not disappear even in 2035, according to Energy Resource International.
Further, the proportion of nuclear power in Japan’s primary energy has fallen since its peak of 12.6% in 2001, to 11.1% in 2010, and has become a mere 0.7% currently (2016) due to most of Japan’s NPPs being in a state of shutdown. At the same time, from 2010 to 2016, Japan’s overall national primary energy declined by 1.98×1020 Joules (J). Also renewable energy (including large hydro) supply increased by 0.4×1020. Considering that the power supply by NPPs in 2010 was 2.46×1020 J, it would seem that in six years Japan has managed to increase its use of renewables and reduce its energy needs by almost the same amount as that once supplied by NPPs.