News Watch 117 (March/April 2007) Nuke Info Tokyo 117
Fate of Japan’s reprocessed uranium
Electric power companies are currently engaged in negotiations about the fate of 6,400 tons of uranium recovered from reprocessing in Europe. The uranium belongs to Japanese utilities, but is held in France and the UK. Negotiations are proceeding to have it fabricated into new fuel, with the various processes split between Kazakhstan and Russia as follows: conversion in Kazakhstan, enrichment in Russia, reconversion and fuel fabrication in Kazakhstan. According to the 21 February 2007 edition of the Yomiuri Shimbun, the Japanese government, along with the electric power companies, approached Russia two years ago about the possibility of having this uranium re-enriched. (Russia has the world’s largest uranium enrichment capacity.) Russia indicated that it was willing to undertake the work and negotiations have been proceeding since then.When Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, met his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, on February 28th, they agreed to advance discussions towards signing a nuclear cooperation agreement between their two countries. On the same day, Japanese NGOs, CNIC and Green Action, and Russian NGO, Ecodefense, issued ajoint press release demanding that both governments “withdraw from negotiations over enriching Japanese uranium in Russia”. The agreement will push the burden of dealing with the special problems of reprocessed uranium onto Kazakhstan and Russia. If, as expected, the Russian uranium enrichment plant in Angarsk serves as the main enrichment plant, the depleted uranium that remains will add to the growing radioactive waste stockpiles near World Heritage listed Lake Baikal.
JBIC approves finance for Kazakhstan uranium mine
On 12 March 2007 the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) announced that it had signed a loan agreement for a uranium mining project in the Suzak District of South Kazakhstan. The project is to “develop a new uranium deposit in West Myunkduk, Southern Kazakhstan, and produce and sell uranium products from that mine.”JBIC classified the project as Category B. A project is classified as Category B “if its potential adverse environmental impact is less adverse than that of Category A projects. Typically, this is site-specific, few if any are irreversible, and in most cases normal mitigation measures can be designed more readily.” According to JBIC’s environmental examination report, “the project site has neither sensitive characteristics nor is located in or near sensitive areas as indicated in JBIC Environmental Guidelines.”
However, CNIC has received information from contacts in Kazakhstan which suggests that the project might not be as environmentally benign as JBIC claims. Although the national atomic company Kazatomprom has created an entity that is working on social programs (Kazatamprom Demeu) in Southern Kazakhstan, many problems remain. Problems include limited public access to ecological information and possible impacts on environment and public health, absence of transparency in the uranium extraction industry’s activities, and organization of public hearings on environmental impact assessment for uranium extraction projects without involvement of all interested and affected parties. Kazatomprom officials claim that the negative impact of uranium mines is close to zero, due to remoteness of the mines from villages (15-20 kilometers). However, people from villages that do not work for Kazatomprom, say that the water in their wells is not clean, and has an acid-like taste. Also, biodiversity and ecosystem impacts in these desert regions are not measured.
Another cost increase for Rokkasho reprocessing plant
On February 20th, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd submitted an application to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry for extensions to four facilities at the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. The four facilities are as follows: No. 2 uranium oxide storage building, MOX transport container monitoring building, No. 2 low active waste (LAW) treatment building, and No. 3 LAW storage building. In addition, work is planned on an underground connection between the reprocessing plant and the MOX fuel fabrication plant. Construction on the latter is due to commence in October 2007. The extensions will cost 160 billion yen, bringing the total cost for the Rokkasho reprocessing plant to 2,353 billion yen.
Citizens demand referendum on Genkai pluthermal
On January 22nd, a petition signed by 49,609 people (number confirmed by city, town and village electoral committees) demanding a referendum by residents of Saga Prefecture on Kyushu Electric Power Company’s pluthermal plan for its Genkai-3 reactor (PWR, 1180 MW). The governor submitted the proposal for a referendum ordinance to the prefectural assembly, but he appended his opinion that such an ordinance was not necessary. The assembly rejected the referendum proposal on February 2nd.
HLW dump developments
On 25 January 2007 the mayor of Toyo Town in Kochi Prefecture submitted an application to the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NUMO) to become a candidate for a high-level waste dump. In fact, he resubmitted the application that he had submitted in March 2006, but on that occasion NUMO did not accept it (see NIT 116). The mayor chose to resubmit the application despite a petition opposing the dump, which was submitted on January 15th by 2,179 people (over 60% of residents). Six of the ten members of the local council oppose the proposal, so the Mayor rushed to resubmit the application before they formally endorsed the petition.On February 9th the local council endorsed the petition and passed a resolution calling on the mayor to resign. However, the mayor has refused to resign. The prefectural assemblies of Kochi Prefecture and neighboring Tokushima Prefecture passed motions opposing the dump and on February 6th the governors of both prefectures submitted statements of opposition to NUMO and the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. All the surrounding local governments in both prefectures have also passed resolutions opposing the dump. Nevertheless, on February 28th NUMO applied to the Minister of Economy Trade and Industry for permission to proceed with a “document study”.
After the document study, approval of both the governor and the mayor is required in order to proceed to an “outline study”, which involves boring. However, only the mayor’s approval is required for the document study. The document study will take two years and a total of 2 billion yen in subsidies will be paid by the central government to Toyo Town and the surrounding municipalities. However, unless the prefecture submits an application for the surrounding municipalities’ portion of the subsidy, Toyo Town can receive the full 2 billion yen. The mayor sees this subsidy as a revenue source for the town, but he is not considering continuing past the document study.
Prosecution for 2004 Mihama-3 accident
On 26 February 2007 the cases of five employees of Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) and an employee of a KEPCO subsidiary were sent to the Fukui District Public Prosecutors Office. They are accused of professional negligence in the Mihama-3 (PWR, 826 MW) accident, which occurred on 9 August 2004. Five people died and six others were injured in the accident, in which a main condensate pipe in the secondary coolant system ruptured (see NIT 102, 103, 106). They have been charged for failing to take corrective action, even though they were aware that the location in question had never been inspected since the reactor commenced operations in 1976.KEPCO senior managers avoided prosecution by claiming that they were not informed before the accident that the pipe had not been inspected. Many residents, including relatives of the deceased, protested the fact that senior managers escaped prosecution and legal experts have criticized the decision on the grounds that it encourages corporate irresponsibility.
Mihama-3 recommenced commercial operations on February 7th. (Adjustment operations began on January 10th.) Since the 2004 accident, KEPCO has been investigating thinning of pipes in the secondary system. According to results released on February 22nd, pipe thickness failed to meet regulatory standards at 66 locations (not including the location that ruptured) in 10 of its 11 reactors. Of these 79% were in 5 aging reactors, which have been operating for over 30 years.
Disposal of TRUs / Waste Swapping
On March 9th, Cabinet endorsed draft amendments to three laws which will allow transuranic waste (TRU, which the Japanese government calls “long half-life, low heat generating waste”) to be disposed of with high-level waste. The draft amendments will now be submitted to the Diet for final approval. The draft amendments also allow swapping of radioactive waste due to be returned from the UK. They will allow high-level waste to be swapped for low and medium-level waste of an equivalent radioactivity content.