NEWS WATCH from NUKE INFO TOKYO 68 (Nov./Dec. 1998)


from NUKE INFO TOKYO 68 (Nov./Dec. 1998)

— Utilities Compete to Shorten Regular Inspection Period
— Court Says Nuclear Plants Are Negative Legacy
— PNC Becomes JNC
— NSC Chairman Testimony
— Agricultural Co-op Says “No” to Additional Reactor at Tomari
— TEPCO Applies for Safety Review on MOX Fueling

Utilities Compete to Shorten Regular Inspection Period

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima II-3 (BWR, 1100 MW), which has been undergoing regular inspection, resumed operation on October 18. Altogether operations were suspended for 36 days, the inspection having started on September 12. This marks the shortest inspection period on record, compared to the 38 days it took to inspect Chubu Electric Power Co.’s Hamaoka 3 (BWR, 1100 MW) and Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi 3 (PWR, 1180 MW).

Japanese power utilities have been anxious to shorten the inspection period in order to help improve the economic efficiency of nuclear power plants. Their attempts include such shortcuts as conducting overhauls of equipment only once every other inspection instead of every time, and starting the inspection right after the operation has been switched off while radioactivity is still very hot. These measures clearly demonstrate that priority is placed on economic efficiency at the expense of the safety and protection of workers.

The Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) supports these measures. According to media reports, it is preparing to cut down the list of inspection items by more than 10%. Furthermore, while the Electricity Enterprises Act currently stipulates that the interval between regular inspections shall be within 13 months, MITI is considering extending it to anywhere between 16 to 19 months.

Court Says Nuclear Plants Are Negative Legacy

The Kanazawa branch of the Nagoya High Court announced a ruling on September 9 in the suit demanding the suspension of Shika reactor (BWR, 540 MW) in Ishikawa Prefecture. In its ruling, the Court acknowledged that nuclear power plants bear a form of “negative legacy,” using an expression to describe the problems of nuclear power which had never before been used in past trial rulings involving nuclear power.

The Court, however, stopped short of passing a clearcut judgement on the issue, stating that “it is up to the Japanese people or humanity to choose whether to promote nuclear power or abolish it.” In response to this decision, the plaintiffs, consisting of local residents, vowed to strengthen their struggle to stop the plant’s operation. They said, “If the Court is going to withdraw from its responsibility, we must be the ones to fulfill our responsibility to our children and grandchildren.”

PNC Becomes JNC

Power Reactor and Nuclear Fuel Development Corp. (PNC), which has been a target of public criticism due to a series of accidents and cover-ups, was officially dissolved on September 30. The following day on October 1, the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC) was established as the succeeding organization. However, the prevailing view is that the only difference is the organization’s name.

It is not known when JNC’s two major facilities, the fast breeder reactor Monju and Tokai reprocessing plant, will resume operation. JNC submitted requests to Hokkaido Prefecture and Horonobe-cho on October 12 for permission to build an underground research facility for the disposal of high-level radioactive waste. Although JNC has long planned to construct the facility in Horonobe-cho, the Governor of Hokkaido announced on October 22 his decision to reject the plan. JNC plans to make the same request again, but it can do so only under the condition that it provides Horonobe-cho with a pledge that high-level waste will not be shipped there.

NSC Chairman Testimony

Kazuo Sato, Chairman of the Nuclear Safety Commission, testified on October 21 at a trial seeking to determine whether the construction license used for building the fast breeder reactor (FBR) Monju was invalid. It was the first time that an NSC member was called as a witness in a lawsuit involving nuclear power.

In December 1995, a fire broke out at Monju caused by sodium leakage from the secondary coolant system which led to the denting and thinning of the floor’s steel plate lining. During a simulated recreation of the accident conducted in June 1996, the chemical reaction created actual holes on a steel board. Sato asserted that they could not have predicted such a result because at the time when the first safety review was conducted, there was no scientific data to show that it would happen. However, he admitted that construction would not have been approved if the inspection was made based on current knowledge.

Agricultural Co-op Says “No” to Additional Reactor at Tomari

At a board meeting held on September 8, the agricultural cooperative in Iwanai-cho, Hokkaido, which is located across the Iwanai Bay from the Tomari nuclear plant, decided to oppose plans by Hokkaido Electric Power to construct an additional reactor Tomari 3 (PWR, 921 MW). On October 10, letters expressing opposition to the plans were sent to the president of the utility firm, the governor of Hokkaido and the mayor of the town of Iwanai.

In May 1991, after an accident at Tomari 1 (PWR, 579) caused cracks on the turbine wing, a consumer cooperative in Sapporo, the biggest city in Hokkaido, refused to buy milk produced in Iwanai. This is an excellent illustration of how goods produced in or around nuclear sites are rejected by consumers out of fear, even if there has been no radioactive leakage. Back then, the incident dealt a heavy blow to farmers in the Iwanai area, and this experience strengthened the agricultural cooperative’s resolve to oppose the new plan.

After the decision was reported by the media, the agricultural cooperative’s office received as many as 1,500 letters and postcards of support written by consumers.

TEPCO Applies for Safety Review on MOX Fueling

Fukushima Prefecture, together with the two local towns, Ohkuma-cho and Futaba-cho, notified Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on November 2 that they will approve the utility’s plan to burn mixed oxide (MOX) fuel at its Fukushima I-3 reactor (BWR, 784 MW) beginning in 1999. In turn, on November 4 TEPCO submitted an application to the Minister of International Trade and Industry for a safety review of the plan.

Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) had already submitted an application for the safety review of its MOX utilization plan at Takahama 4 (PWR, 870MW) scheduled to begin in 1999, as well as at Takahama 3 (PWR, 870 MW) from 2000. It received the ministry’s approval on August 26. The plans are currently being “double checked” by the Nuclear Safety Commission. Although Fukui Prefecture and Takahama-cho have given the green light to apply for the safety review of the two plans, they have not yet approved the actual MOX fueling.

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