News Watch 126 (September/October 2008) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 126
Extension of time allowed between periodic inspections
As reported in NIT 122, the Japanese government is planning to extend the time allowed between periodic inspections of nuclear power plants. On August 6 the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) decided that the new arrangements would be introduced from January 2009.Under the new system, based on assessments of each reactor, the maximum time allowed between periodic inspections may be increased from the current 13 months to 18 months and then to 24 months. It is said that the government is rushing to introduce the new system because the capacity factor of Japan’s reactors is low compared to the international average. However, the cause of Japan’s low capacity factor does not lie in the inspection system. Rather, it lies in the frequently occurring accidents and scandals, damage from earthquakes due to flawed seismic safety assessments, and the time taken to carry out inspections and repairs. Rather than rushing to increase the time permitted between inspections, these other problems should be addressed.
Recurring radiation exposure incidents at a fuel fabrication facility
On July 9, uranium oxide (UO2) powder was scattered at the GNF-J plant in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture. As a result, one worker was exposed to a radiation dose of 1.12 mSv by inhaling the powder. The following month, on August 8, uranium solution was spilled. On this occasion two operators and two supervisors were exposed to radiation by ingesting the material. The maximum dose was 1.87 mSv.
Moves to build HLW disposal simulation facility in Horonobe Town
Horonobe Town in Hokkaido Prefecture is the site of an underground facility, which is being constructed by Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) to carry out research into the disposal of high-level radioactive waste (HLW). It is now reported that an additional facility will be built in Horonobe to simulate disposal of HLW. This facility will be managed by the Radioactive Waste Management Funding and Research Center, which controls funding for geological disposal. Locals believe that both JAEA’s facility and the planned simulation facility are less about research and more about public relations and that the target of the PR is not so much the visitors to the facilities, as the townspeople themselves. They fear that they are being softened up for a permanent HLW dump.
Cooperation between Japan and the UK on fuel cycle and new plants
Denki Shimbun newspaper (19 August 2008) reported that on August 18 the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry and the Federation of Electric Power Companies adopted policies to support nuclear fuel cycle business and construction of new nuclear power plants in the UK. Memoranda have already been exchanged at an administrative level and it is believed that specific projects will be discussed when UK government officials and industry representatives visit Japan in November.Japanese industry is looking to open up new markets by participating in the construction of new power plants overseas. It is expected that discussions about the construction of new plants will cover such matters as a framework for training, technical cooperation and technology supply, as well as loan guarantees. In regard to fuel cycle cooperation, it is believed that issues up for discussion include new contracts for the supply of MOX fuel and the consignment to Russia of re-enrichment of uranium recovered from reprocessed spent fuel.
Integrated safeguards for Tokai Plutonium Facilities
Beginning on August 1, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) integrated safeguards were collectively applied to six of the facilities at Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA) site in Tokai Village, Ibaraki Prefecture. The six facilities include facilities for reprocessing, denitration and plutonium fuel fabrication. Japan’s nuclear power plants were already subject to integrated safeguards, but this is the first time in the world that integrated safeguards have been applied to plutonium-handling facilities.The integrated safeguards will involve frequent reporting of quantitative control information, frequent assessment of material unaccounted for (MUF) based on this information, remote monitoring systems covering the entire facility, and random inspections. Random inspections are supposed to raise the capacity to prevent diversion to military use, while at the same time enabling a reduction of staff and time dedicated to inspections. In the past, 976 person days per year were devoted to inspections of the six facilities, but it is predicted that improved efficiency will enable this number to be reduced by one third to 667 person days per year.
Organizational support for international nuclear cooperation
On August 27 the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy established a subcommittee to consider support for the introduction of nuclear power overseas. The subcommittee will be chaired by Satoru Tanaka, who is also head of the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee. The first meeting is scheduled to be held in October.During the same Nuclear Energy Subcommittee meeting, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy said that together with industry and academia it intends to establish an international nuclear energy cooperation council to strengthen the system for cooperation in relation to the introduction of nuclear energy into countries in Asia and the Middle East. The council could commence as early as this fiscal year (by March 2009). Its purpose will be to provide support in areas such as training of operation control staff and development of safety regulations in order to establish a foundation for states considering introducing nuclear power for the first time.
In another initiative, an international nuclear safety working group within the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy held its first meeting on August 1. The working group will develop policy applicable to the Nuclear Industrial and Safety Agency’s international nuclear cooperation program, which includes providing advice on nuclear safety regulations for the establishment of a foundation for the implementation of nuclear power. Denki Shimbun newspaper (August 4) explained that it is hoped that in future this will lead to the transfer of “Japan’s nuclear safety”.
The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) is also considering its response to the issue of international cooperation. In July a working group established within JAIF’s human resources development council held its first meeting. The working group will consider strategies for international cooperation, including the development of people capable of working on the international stage and the development of human resources in Asia.
Japan-US-France cooperation on Fast Reactors
On August 25, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the US Department of Energy and the French Commissariat a l’Energie Atomique amended their January 2008 memorandum of understanding on cooperation in the development of demonstration sodium cooled fast reactors. The three countries agreed that experimental data obtained after the restart of Monju and operational and maintenance experience will be reflected in development of demonstration fast reactors. As a result of strengthened cooperation, research facilities will be rearranged to enable joint use and duplication of development work will be avoided.
Toshiba, IHI and Doosan team up for construction of nuclear reactors
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on August 26 that Toshiba, IHI and Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction have agreed to team up for the construction of nuclear reactors. The Toshiba-Westinghouse group has already obtained orders in the US and China for 12 PWR units. It aims to gain world-wide orders for 33 reactors by 2015, but Toshiba lacks PWR technology having only constructed BWRs until now. Doosan will supply PWR manufacturing know-how, while IHI will re-equip for the manufacture of steam generators. Doosan will manufacture for the Chinese market, while IHI is expected to manufacture for the US market.However, even if Toshiba-Westinghouse wins orders to construct 33 reactors by 2015, it is unrealistic to expect it to maintain construction at this pace.