News Watch 123 (March/April 2008) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 123
Further delay in commercial operation of Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant
On February 25, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL) officially announced that active testing of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, which was scheduled to end in February, would not be completed until May. As explained in NIT 122, problems with the glass vitrification facility meant that a delay was inevitable.This is the twelfth time the planned starting time has been delayed. Even if government approval is received in May, meetings still have to be held to explain to the citizens and safety agreements must be signed with Aomori Prefecture and Rokkasho Village and surrounding villages. It is, therefore, unlikely that commercial operations will begin before July.
Explanatory meetings for restart of Monju
Having completed modifications to the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor (280 MW), which has been closed since a sodium fire in December 1995, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) is now looking to begin trial operations. On February 8th, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) accepted the appropriateness of changes proposed by JAEA in response to issues pointed out in NISA’s comprehensive safety check. On February 19th, the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry approved the loading of new fuel (quantity of fissile plutonium increased by 1%) to replace degraded old fuel. Having obtained these approvals, JAEA held explanatory meetings in Tsuruga City on February 25th and neighboring Mihama Town on March 5th. Citizens are very worried and the governor of Fukui Prefecture commented that receiving approvals and restarting the plant are different things.
Health damage from JCO criticality accident not recognized
On February 27th, the Mito District Court handed down its verdict in a case for damages for impaired health as a result of the September 1999 criticality accident at the JCO uranium processing plant. The claim was lodged in September 2002 by a husband and wife, who ran a car part factory next to the plant, against JCO and JCO’s parent company, Sumitomo Metal Mining. They claimed that they suffered health effects including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and aggravation of skin rashes. The court refused their claim, accepting JCO’s defense that the radiation exposure was minimal and rejecting any cause-effect relationship.The plaintiffs did not accept the verdict and have appealed to the Tokyo High Court.
Rokkasho Uranium Enrichment Plant down to a single line
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL) has been forced to stop uranium enrichment lines one after the other at its uranium enrichment plant in Rokkasho Village. Another one stopped on February 12th, so now only one of the plant’s 7 lines is still operating. (The 7 lines constructed so far are supposed to have a capacity of 1050 tSWU/year). JNFL claims that it will maintain the last line until a new centrifuge, which is now under development, is introduced, although the capacity of that line has fallen to such an extent that it might as well be stopped.The original aim was for the plant to have a capacity of 1,500 tSWU/year, but the capacity is now down to less than one tenth of this.
Joint uranium exploration in Canada
On February 11th, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) signed a letter of intent with Canada’s Titan Uranium concerning joint uranium exploration in Titan’s Virgin Trend Project. This project is located in the Athabasca Sedimentary Basin, where one third of the world’s uranium is mined.JOGMEC will provide Can$9 million for uranium exploration over a three-year term, giving it a 50% interest in the project. JOGMEC also has the option to provide an additional Can$6 million to obtain the exclusive marketing rights of the mineral products of the joint venture for a 10-year period from first commercial production.
NEXI to insure nuclear exports
In a move that is clearly designed to support Japanese companies trying to export nuclear power plants and related equipment, Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI) plans to offer preferential insurance conditions for exports that contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The insurance would cover such situations as disruption to projects due to natural disasters and acts of terrorism.The proposed new scheme was reported on the front page of the 19 February edition of Nikkei Shimbun newspaper. According to the article, the scheme will come into effect this summer. Worth 2 trillion yen, it will represent one seventh of NEXI’s total underwritings (14 trillion yen), meaning that large-scale projects, including nuclear power plants, could be covered. (Until now, government finance and loan guarantees have not been granted for nuclear exports to developed countries, but this restriction would not apply to this scheme.) Insurance premiums would be reduced by 30% to 70% and, where usually a maximum of 97.5% of the loan or export value can be insured, under this scheme the full value could be covered.
Besides NEXI, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) is also moving to increase its financing of nuclear projects. Last year the government announced its intention that JBIC and NEXI should provide finance and insurance to support Japanese companies bidding to build new nuclear power plants in the US (Nikkei Shimbun, 23 June 2007). The article was reporting on the first meeting of the steering committee of the United States – Japan Joint Nuclear Energy Action Plan. The meeting was held in Washington on 22 June 2007 between officials from Japan’s Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry and the US’s Department of Energy.
IAEA releases second report on Kashiwazaki-Kariwa
According to the IAEA’s press release (1 February) for its second report on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the follow-up fact-finding mission “concluded from the examination of the plant’s key safety areas that there was no significant damage to safety equipment from a strong earthquake last year.” The media faithfully reported this conclusion, but a closer reading reveals that the report was not the unequivocal endorsement that it is made out to be. The points made in the following extract (page 9 of the report) are very similar to the issues raised by KK Scientists (see translation of Japanese leaflet published in this issue of NIT).”- While discussing the analytical portion of the integrity evaluation plan, the following points were noted:
* The simple models used in the analyses may not always provide conservative results;
* The analysis presented used a set of assumptions that may need to be reviewed, if the plant is required to be re-evaluated to a similar or greater seismic input. It was suggested by the IAEA expert team that it would be better to adopt a more realistic set of assumptions, methods and modelling and acceptance criteria for these analyses, in order to proceed consistently during the entire re-evaluation process.
– It was noted that the conducted (sic) visual inspections conducted are adequate to detect large and widespread deformation such as bent piping. However, the visual inspections will not identify damage that may be internal to the component or localized plastic deformation…there is no standardized inspection method to detect localized plastic deformation in a non-destructive fashion…”