News Watch 120 (September/October 2007) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 120
Monju Plant-Confirmation Tests Begin
Modifications of Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA) Monju Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (280 MW, Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture), which began in March 2005 (NIT 110), were completed on August 30 this year and plant-confirmation tests were commenced the following day. Operation of Monju has been suspended since an accident caused by a sodium leak in December 1995. The accident occurred shortly after trials of the plant commenced. The main purpose of the plant-confirmation tests is to confirm that equipment and machinery which has been idle since the accident is still in sound condition.Originally JAEA planned to complete the tests by next May, but the details of the tests were reconsidered in response to comments from local citizens’ groups. About 50 extra test items were added, including Eddy Current Test (ECT) of all the pipes in the steam generator, bringing the total number of items to 140. As a result the tests will continue for an extra 3 months to August. In addition, JAEA decided to take the precaution of conducting preparatory operations for 2 months before the commencement of full operation.
As a result, the schedule for recommencement of operations has been extended by 5 months from May to October 2008.
Successive Cases of Arson at Tomari-3 Construction Site
There were successive cases of arson between July and August at the construction site of Hokkaido Electric Power Company’s Tomari-3 (PWR, 912 MW) nuclear power plant. The first incident occurred on July 3. A second incident occurred on July 4, the day the reactor pressure vessel was transported into the site. In total, there were 6 incidents up until August 9. All were small-scale fires. It appears that the intention was not to cause major damage. The culprit has not been found and we can only speculate about the motive, but it has been said that the fires might not have been lit so much as a result of personal resentment, but rather as a protest against the prioritization of cost at the site.In order to prevent a recurrence, additional surveillance cameras have been installed and an additional 70 people have been employed to monitor the site. Workers are required to undergo body checks and they have been banned from moving around the site on their own. Efforts to find the culprit include posting 50 notices around the site offering a reward of 2 million yen to anyone providing useful information.
Agricultural and seafood producers and consumers oppose Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant
For the first time, agricultural and seafood producers in Aomori Prefecture and neighboring Iwate Prefecture have joined hands with cooperatives which distribute their products and consumers’ groups to form a national network to oppose the Rokkasho reprocessing plant and prevent radioactive contamination. CNIC’s Masako Sawai was one of the speakers at a meeting held to launch the network in Tokyo on July 28. Then on August 25 over 300 people from all over Japan attended a meeting held in Aomori City. Scientists and representatives of local opposition groups and sponsoring organizations delivered messages at the meeting. They expressed their resolve to prevent the operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, so that people can continue to eat the produce of Aomori and Iwate Prefectures without fearing that it is contaminated with radioactivity.
Regulations to be changed to extend time between periodic inspections
The Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency plans to change its regulations to extend the time between periodic inspections, thus allowing nuclear power plants to operate consecutively for longer periods. It is aiming to implement the changes in 2008, but local and prefectural governments are strongly opposed.Under the current regulations, the longest that nuclear power plants can be operated before undergoing a periodic inspection is 13 months. Under the draft amendment, the period would be set at 13 months, 18 months, or 24 months on the basis of individual assessments for each plant. Power companies would submit applications and a decision would be made based on an engineering assessment of the state of each plant.
Local and prefectural governments say that they do not object to changes to improve safety, but that the citizens will not accept changes for the sake of improving plants’ capacity factor. Another issue influencing their attitude is that during periodic inspections a large number of workers come to the region and contribute to the local economy in such areas as accommodation, restaurants and the entertainment industry. These industries would suffer if there were a reduction in the number of periodic inspections.
Next generation light water reactors
On September 12, the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, Japan Electrical Manufacturers’ Association and the Federation of Electric Power Companies agreed on joint development of next generation light water reactors. It will be the first such joint development for around 20 years. However, instead of the utilities, which have lost their former strength (and will?), the plant makers will take the central role in the development.The plan involves investment of around 60 billion yen of public and private money over a period of eight years from 2008. 1,700~1,800 MW scale BWR and PWR reactor types will be developed in parallel. To the extent that standardization is not compromised, bearing in mind the potential for exports, 800~1,100 MW medium-scale reactors will also be kept in the picture.
The aim is to improve the economics of nuclear power through high burn-up 5% enriched uranium fuel, extension of operating life to 80 years and substantial reduction in construction time. Nevertheless, it is unclear whether power companies will actually buy the plants.
Muslim clerics say “No” to nuclear plan
On September 2, the Jepara branch of Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), issued a statement declaring the proposed Muria nuclear power plant “haram” or “forbidden”. The statement was issued by a gathering of over 150 clerics in Jepara, Central Java.We suspect that the effects of the Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant had some influence on the thinking of the NU clerics. Two Indonesians visited Japan in July, immediately before the Chuetsu-Oki Earthquake (see NIT 119). One of them, Nuruddin Amin, is a local Jepara NU leader. Their meeting with local activists opposed to the Hamaoka nuclear power plant was a highlight of their visit. Hamaoka sits on top of the site of the predicted Tokai earthquake.
The Indonesian government has not yet made a firm decision to cancel the Muria plan, but there is a marked change in the statements it is making now. Instead of the certainty of its previous statements, the government is now saying things such as, “The Muria nuclear power plant plan is not final. The government has not decided yet whether it will be built or not.”
A striking aspect of NU’s statement was the concern it showed for the feelings and the well-being of the general community. Hopefully the Indonesian government will show its respect for the feelings of its people by canceling the Muria nuclear power plant plan.
The Japanese government and industry must accept that the writing is on the wall for Muria. They have been currying favor with the Indonesian and other South-East Asian governments in the hope of winning nuclear power contracts, but they must accept the will of the Indonesian people.