NEWS WATCH from NUKE INFO TOKYO 66 (Jul./Aug. 1998)


from NUKE INFO TOKYO 66 (Jul./Aug. 1998)

— Gov’t Measures on Global Warming Require More Nuclear Plants
— White Papers on Nuclear Policy Released
— Shroud Replacement of Fukushima I-3 Completed
— PNC: A Huge Barrel of Flops

Gov’t Measures on Global Warming Require More Nuclear Plants

Japan’s Global Warming Prevention Headquarters, headed by Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, finalized on June 19 guidelines for achieving its target emission reduction rate (6% from 1990) of greenhouse-effect gases. The target had been decided at the 3rd Conference of the Parties to the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP3).

The guideline naturally includes measures to save energy, but it emphasizes, in particular, the promotion of nuclear power-plant construction suggesting that “it is necessary to construct by FY2010 additional plants to meet the target of a more than 50% increase in the amount of power generated over FY1997.” In order to accomplish this, the guidelines emphasize the need for the Government as a whole to undertake all efforts possible.

On the other hand, the 1998 White Paper on Environment that received Cabinet approval on June 5 does not mention nuclear power at all. In a way, the White Paper represents very precisely the attitude of the Environment Agency that does not want to take part in the effort of promoting nuclear power, but cannot engage in a frontal attack of the policy. There is a view in currently in the Diet that the Environment Agency should be invested with the authority to regulate the impact imposed on the environment by nuclear power. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see the change of roles for the Agency after it has been promoted to “Environment Ministry” under the Basic Law on the Reform of Government Ministries and Agencies established on June 9.

White Papers on Nuclear Policy Released

On June 19 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and on June 30 the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) released respectively the White Paper on Nuclear Power and the White Paper on Nuclear Safety. The former was issued one-and-a-half years following the previous report while the latter was separated from its predecessor by two years and three months. Neither of the two annual White Papers state clearly the reasons for the delayed release. There is no doubt, however, that the two Commissions waited until they were able to foresee how the series of scandals involving the Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (PNC) would be handled. In addition, the release followed the establishment of the law on PNC reform that will turn PNC into a new corporation.

NSC was set up 20 years ago to serve as a professional committee specializing in safety regulations. This was done in order to correct the old system in which safety regulations were a part of AEC, an agency that is mostly concerned with the promotion of nuclear power. The two White Papers strike the common theme of emphasizing the need to “recover public trust in nuclear power,” and adopt a similar argument as well that “although Japan’s nuclear facilities are safe, the public does not feel safe enough.”

Shroud Replacement of Fukushima I-3 Completed

Shroud replacement of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO) Fukushima I-3 (BWR, 784 MW) which started on May 26, 1997 was completed on June 8. TEPCO is said also to be planning to replace the shrouds of unit 2, 1 and 5 of Fukushima I (unit 1 – 460 MW; the other two – 784 MW) in that order.

The replacement work of unit 3 involved about 3,000 workers, of whom about 1,000 worked inside the reactor. The total radiation exposure dose in provisional computation was about 11.5-person Sv. The maximum exposure dose among these workers was 25mSv, and the average rate was about 3.7mSv. In the last regular inspection of the same reactor there were about 5,300 workers where the total exposure dose was 4.97-person Sv and the average exposure dose was 0.9mSv.

Of the radioactive waste produced by the replacement, about 40 tons of high radioactive waste is stored in pool water, and about 20 tons of relatively low radioactive waste is stored in the solid waste storage facility.

PNC: A Huge Barrel of Flops

Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation’s (PNC) Tokai facility had been issued a suspension order by the Science and Technology Agency (STA) for the period between December 1997 to June 1998. The suspension order was imposed due to the series of careless management of radioactive waste by PNC, including an incident in which drums containing uranium waste were left soaking in water causing them to corrode and leak radioactive in PNC’s storage facility. Just before the suspension period was to end, another case of sloppy management came to light.

On June 17, four sample bottles containing natural uranium powder were found at a “non-radioactive waste” underground storage pit at the plutonium fuel plant. They bottles were said to have been found during a general inspection of waste-related facilities in the Plant. The plant manager did not report this to the director of the plant, nor was any public announcement made because none of the staff were found to be exposed to radiation, and there was no evidence of contamination in the surrounding area.

PNC had become a target of public criticism and a source of considerable social unease when it was revealed that it had been concealing information and making false reports during the time of the Monju accident, as well as the accident at the bitumenizing facility of the same Tokai Reprocessing Plant. Yet, once again this same pattern of falsification and concealment was repeated.

A report on the four bottles of uranium to the plant director was finally made on June 29. At the same time, an official announcement was at last made. Meanwhile, on June 25, two sample bottles contaminated by plutonium were found at the same underground storage pit where the bottles containing uranium had been found. This time the incident was made public because the clothing and shoes worn by the three workers had been contaminated. Later, rock-like material from the same pit that had been processed from natural uranium was also found.
On June 30, a very high level of plutonium – 23 Bq/kg of plutonium-238, and 390 Bq/kg of plutonium-239 and 240 – were detected in the ashes of incinerated waste in the pit. The incineration was done on June 15, 22 and 25 or a period after they found the uranium-containing bottles. This means that waste was being incinerated even after PNC officers knew of the possibility that radioactive substances might be mixed in the waste, resulting in the release of radioactivity in the environment during incineration.

Endless though it may seem, on July 7, radioactive substances including cesium 137 were detected in the ashes of “non-radioactive waste” at the reprocessing plant.

There is a need to thoroughly investigate the circumstances in which radioactive waste is so often being disposed of as “non-radioactive” waste.

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