News Watch

Onagawa Unit 1 to be Decommissioned

The Tohoku Electric Power Company submitted a notification of changes to power generation facilities to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry on December 21, 2018, saying it would decommission the Unit 1 reactor (BWR, 524 MW) at the Onagawa Nuclear Power Station. Further, it was reported in January 2019 that Kyushu Electric Power Co. was considering decommissioning the Unit 2 reactor at its Genkai Nuclear Power Station (PWR, 559 MW). It has also been confirmed that steps toward decommissioning of Units 1 to 4 at the Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO’s) Fukushima Daini NPP (each BWR, 1100 MW) will be taken.

This brings the total number of reactors slated for decommissioning to 21 of the 54 units Japan counted prior to the Fukushima nuclear accident, and it is expected that the number of reactors to be decommissioned will increase further.

Fuel Retrieval from Monju Hits a Snag

Retrieval of fuel from the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor (280 MW), the first step in its decommissioning, got underway in August 2018. First, 160 spent fuel assemblies must be unloaded from the ex-vessel storage tank, but the plan to take out 100 assemblies in 2018 encountered difficulties involving frequent problems with the fuel retrieval device, and has been carried over into 2019. A promise had been made for the fuel to be transported out of Fukui Prefecture, but a destination for it has yet to be determined.

Extraction of secondary-system sodium was completed by the end of 2018, with the sodium transferred to tanks. Regarding the primary system, however, no consideration had been given to decommissioning in the original design, so structural elements to prevent meltdowns due to exposure of fuel have impeded extraction itself, presenting a problem to be resolved in the future. Methods for transporting the tanks to which the sodium has been transferred out of Fukui Prefecture and its disposal have also yet to be determined, along with where this will be done.

At the Liaison Council on Monju Decommissioning Measures held on December 21, 2018, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) explained that the “Special Fuel Disposal Facility” being planned by Orano Cycle of France is a candidate destination for disposal of the spent fuel. While there have been enquiries from a number of companies overseas regarding acceptance of secondary-system sodium, the policy is limited to determining candidates for exportation by 2022.

 ‘Strategic Road Map’ for Fast Reactor Development

The Council on Fast Reactor Development, which was established to promote fast reactor development even after decommissioning of Monju, put together a strategic roadmap on December 20, 2018, and had it approved the next day, December 21, by the Ministerial Conference on Atomic Energy. Unlike typical experts’ councils, these do not even include one or two committee members with critical viewpoints to give the impression of neutrality, but have the explicit purpose of promoting this technology. The former is chaired by Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and includes as members the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Director of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), Chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies and President of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.; while the latter is presided over by Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary and includes as members the Foreign Minister, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and “extraordinary” cabinet ministers in charge of science & technology and nuclear emergency preparedness.

Belying its title of “Strategic Road Map,” a mere two pages of the total 12 pages are worded like a roadmap. Even those just give the appearance of “a roadmap toward creating a roadmap,” with (1) a step to encourage competition and try out various ideas, (2) a step to narrow down the choices and put emphasize on support and (3) a step to consider future development issues and schedules. Before that, there were accounts mentioning a possible timing of full-scale use of fast reactors starting at one point or another in the latter half of the 21st century or anticipating the beginning of operations at a practical scale from the viewpoint of technical maturation, financing and operational experience around the middle of the 21st century, but such speculations cannot be called a “roadmap.”

This is occurring in the context of a passive stance by Japan’s electric power industry. According to the November 5 issue of The Denki Shimbun (The Electric Daily News), Kunio Morinaka (an executive director at the Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO)), who chairs the Federation of Electric Power Companies’ Committee on Measures for Nuclear Power Development explained the views of the electric power companies at the meeting to draw up the roadmap. He said that they are emphasizing the need for companies involved in energy to contribute to some degree toward fast reactor development and say they will cooperate as much as possible with any policies the government puts forward. This is clearly a declaration that they do not intend to make efforts on their own initiative. Pushing back the target for practical use of fast reactors somewhat from the original goal of 2050 may be seen as “realistic,” but it is still far removed from the hard facts. Implementation of fast reactor technology is unlikely to be realized.

No Indication from KEPCO on Candidate Destinations for Spent Fuel

KEPCO President Iwane Shigeki apologized on December 21, 2018 to Governor Nishikawa Issei of Fukui Prefecture for his inability to announce the candidate sites for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel outside the prefecture by year end, as he had promised to do. He had made that promise a year earlier in November 2017, and the governor had accepted this as a condition for agreeing to allow Units 3 and 4 (both PWR, 1180 MW) of the Oi Nuclear Power Station to be restarted.

The mayors of Mihama, Takahama and Oi Towns, where the station is located, criticized KEPCO severely, while on the other hand, the governor considered the idea of not necessarily insisting the spent fuel be taken out of the prefecture. However, on January 7, 2019, President Iwane reiterated his denial that the interim storage would be in Fukui Prefecture.

Interim Spent Fuel Storage Facility in Mutsu Delays Start of Operations

On January 6, 2018, Kyodo News reported on negotiations by KEPCO with Recyclable-Fuel Storage Co. (established through joint investment by TEPCO and Japan Atomic Power Co.) regarding use of its facility under construction in Mutsu City, Aomori Prefecture as a destination for storage of spent fuel consignments (all parties involved denied this). Recyclable-Fuel Storage Co. submitted an addendum to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority on January 10, 2019 to their application for approval of changes in their business plan, to delay the start of operations until 2021, whereas the previous plan was for the latter half of 2018. This is the seventh such delay.

MHPS Delivers Turbine Generators for Haiyang Unit 1

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, Ltd. (MHPS) signed documents on December 11, 2018 for delivery of turbine generation facilities to Shandong Nuclear Power Co., Ltd. for the Unit 1 reactor (AP1000, 1250 MW) at its Haiyang Nuclear Power Plant in China. According to a press release by MHPS, it had been managing all of the designs for turbines, heat exchangers, main valves, etc. and transferring the technology based on a technology transfer agreement with Harbin Electric Corporation. MHPS had therefore produced and supplied six low-pressure turbines, two high-pressure turbines, the main valves and other electrical generation equipment. Harbin Electric has handled the production of the turbine casing and heat exchanger, while Mitsubishi Electric Corporation and Harbin Electric have supplied one generator each.

Criticism of Nuclear Power from Keidanren Chair?

Chairman Nakanishi Hiroaki of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), who is also Chairman and CEO of Hitachi, Ltd., has become the talk of the town over the criticism he expressed toward nuclear power during his first media interview in the New Year. The January 5, 2019 issue of Tokyo Shimbun reported that Chairman Nakanishi had made negative remarks about fossil fuels and renewable energy, but he also had the following to say.

“Nearly eight years have passed since the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, but no nuclear power plants in eastern Japan have resumed operation thus far. Forcing energy companies and vendors such as Hitachi to produce something everyone opposes is not what a democratic nation does. How can we produce things the citizens don’t want? I think we should get serious and hold discussions open to the public.

“Huge sums of money are being sunk into safety measures for nuclear plants that will not operate. The electric power companies are doing things that would be unthinkable to a manager like me who has had to take additional measures to maintain plants that have produced nothing for eight years.”

He is criticizing nuclear power, but that doesn’t mean he has taken an anti-nuke stance. A couple of weeks later at a regular press conference, he had the following to say:

“Lack of progress toward restarting nuclear power plants has become an issue most recently, but vigorous efforts should be made to promote restarts. Even if we discuss their safety exhaustively, we’ve reached a point where we cannot obtain understanding among the local communities. Such persuasion cannot be accomplished by the electric power companies on their own, but broad discussions are needed. Despite this, there is not enough frank and open discussion of nuclear power.

“If we assume nuclear power will not be used as a baseload power source, we must think rationally about what the energy source for humanity will be over the long term. It would be utterly impossible for renewable energy by itself to cover our needs. Nuclear technology should be used effectively to help humanity.” (Japan Business Federation, “Remarks by Chairman Nakanishi at the Regular Press Conference,” Jan. 15, 2019.)

In short, he wants the government to do something.

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