NEWS WATCH from NUKE INFO TOKYO 70 (Mar./Apr. 1999)


from NUKE INFO TOKYO 70 (Mar./Apr. 1999)

— Nuclear Power Plants Might Be Safe for 60 Years?
— Nuclear Budget for 1999
— Japan Helps Russia to Dismantle Nuclear Arsenal
— Court Rejects Tomari Nuclear Power Plant Closure
— Ohi 2 Has Control Rod Trouble

Nuclear Power Plants Might Be Safe for 60 Years?

Agency of Natural Resources and Energy submitted a report on 8 February to the Nuclear Safety Commission, claiming that Japan’s first three reactors, which have been in operation for nearly 30 years, could run for up to 60 years. They are Tsuruga 1 (BWR, 357 MW, first operational in March 1970), Mihama 1 (PWR, 340 MW, November 1970), and Fukushima I-1 (BWR, 460, March 1971). The report was prepared by the owners of these reactors, Japan Atomic Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co. and Tokyo Electric Power Co., and then approved by the Agency.

The utilities, however, emphasized that although these reactors could run for up to 60 years, how long they would actually continue in operation is unknown. There is no legal duration limit for operation in Japan.

Nuclear Budget for 1999

The Japanese government announced that its total nuclear budget for fiscal year 1999 (April 1999 to March 2000) is 477 billion yen, a 2% increase from last year. For the last few years the allocation has been decreasing annually, but the trend was reversed this year. Expenditures for new site promotion are 88 billion yen, an 18% increase from last year. However, remaining expenditures are less than what was allocated last year. Only items of the budget devoted to site promotion have increased. The government is still trying to promote nuclear power by distributing large sums of money in areas where the construction of nuclear power plants has been accepted, in order to quiet down strong opposition.

Budgetary allocations formerly provided to the Power Reactor & Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation (PNC) were supposed to have been scaled down with the creation of the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC). However, JNC has been given a total of 144 billion yen, almost the same amount as was allocated last year. For the crippled FBR (Monju) project, 10 billion yen was allocated for maintenance and reform work. A total of 11 billion yen has been designated for continuing construction of the Recycle Equipment Test Facility to reprocess spent fuel from Monju, an allocation that is totally unnecessary.

Japan Helps Russia to Dismantle Nuclear Arsenal

Science and Technology Agency and the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute (JNC) on 23 February revealed a plan for Japan to help Russia rework dismantled plutonium into fuel for its FBR BN600. An official contract may be drawn up sometime in March. The plan calls for a five-year period of cooperation between JNC and Russia’s Obninskoye Physical-Technical Institute and Atomic Reactors Scientific Research. The first two years will be spent on preliminary experiments. They will then start producing MOX fuel using dismantled plutonium and about 0.3 tons of plutonium will be burned annually from 2002. Plutonium will be simply burned and not breed.

STA is saying, “The cooperation in burning plutonium will show the world that Japan possesses nuclear power for peaceful purposes only and has no intention of developing nuclear arms from plutonium.” However, the development of the technology to fabricate MOX fuel from dismantled plutonium and to burn it could be considered to take Japan one step closer to arms production. Therefore, this will only make the rest of the world even more concerned about Japan’s intentions about nuclear arms development.

Court Rejects Tomari Nuclear Power Plant Closure

The Sapporo District Court on 22 February handed down a ruling on the claim for suspension of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari 1 and 2 (PWR, 579 MW each). It rejected a lawsuit brought by about 1,000 local residents, stating “the court does not accept that there exists a concrete risk of danger that would harm the plaintiffs’ health or life.”

In the ruling Judge Yoshihiro Katayama also said that “the possibility of a nuclear accident cannot be completely denied and the problem of the disposal of radioactive wastes is not yet solved.” He then continued, “As we approach the 21st century and look toward the future of humanity, it is now time for us to seriously discuss the meaning of nuclear power. Some people argue that nuclear power will help combat global warming. It may be one option. However, suspending nuclear reactors that produce radioactive waste could be one path to reducing electricity consumption while at the same time enduring some inconvenience. What are we going to leave for future generations? We must encourage thorough discussions from a number of different angles and choose the wisest solution possible.”

Such a comment, which could overturn his own ruling, is extremely unusual in the Japanese court. Even though some plaintiffs were critical of his ruling, saying, “We filed a law suit because we, the local residents, were being deprived of the basic right to make our own decisions and the ruling does not relate to that at all.”

Ohi 2 Has Control Rod Trouble

During the annual check-up on 29 January at the Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi 2 (PWR, 1175MW) control rods slipped from the control rod drive mechanism (CRDM) and fell into the reactor core. The incident happened during the last stage of check-up procedures and when the reactor had just been started up in order to confirm the function. When power reached 38%, one of the 53 control rods slipped from the CRDM, falling into the reactor core which reduced power to about 35%. As workers began to bring the reactor to a stop in order to determine the cause of the slippage, another rod was found to have malfunctioned. They immediately made an emergency stop. When the operators checked the function of all the rods they discovered another two had fallen and two more had malfunctioned.

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