NEWS WATCH from NUKE INFO TOKYO 72 (July/ Aug. 1999)
from NUKE INFO TOKYO 72 (July/ Aug. 1999)
— Shipments of Spent Fuel to Rokkasho to Be Resumed
— The Kushima City Council Withdraws Its Resolution Opposing a Nuclear Plant
— Putting into Operation Intermediate Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel
— Majority Opt for a “Change to a Flexible Path”
On July 6, the Governor of Aomori Prefecture announced that he would allow resumption of shipments of spent fuel to the storage pool of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. On July 29, 1998 the Governor and the Mayor of Rokkasho approved a test shipment for the purpose of calibrating combustion measurement equipment. The first shipment was carried out on October 2. However, immediately afterwards it was revealed that the data on the transport casks had been altered (See NIT No. 69), and so further shipments were suspended.
This first shipment of spent fuel was from Fukushima 2, a BWR. The subsequent planned shipments were to originate from two PRWs, at Ikata and Sendai. The shipments from these PRWs have now been delayed by roughly one year. Nonetheless, plans are in place for the main plant of the reprocessing facility to begin operation in July 2005.
The problem of fabrication and alteration of data on the transport casks has been solved by altering designs to match those of the casks used in the shipment and subsequently by having the Science and Technology Agency approve the changes. By June 17, all the casks were officially approved as having met official safety standards.
On June 25, the City Council of Kushima City, Miyazaki Prefecture, withdrew a resolution opposing a nuclear power plant that had been passed by the Council three years earlier. In violation of customary practice, the withdrawal proposal was brought to the floor on the last day of the session by pro-nuke legislators, and was adopted after just 40 minutes of discussion.
Kyushu Electric Power Co. has plans to construct a nuclear plant in the City, but there has been a great deal of local opposition. As a result, the Council passed a resolution in September 1996 opposing the plan. In the mayoral election in November of the same year a candidate who pledged his opposition to the construction plan won a landslide victory. Because of this, an atmosphere that “the nuclear issue is finished” gradually settled in. However, the mayor’s other promise, to hold a referendum, has not been implemented as it was said to be “no longer necessary.”
In the City Council election this April, the spotlight moved away from the nuclear plant issue. The election became a contest over local power interests. As a result, the number of opponents to the nuclear plan dropped from 11 to just 5. The proponents of the plan saw this as a golden opportunity. They introduced the bill to withdraw the previous opposition resolution. However, very few candidates during the election campaign said that they were proponents of the construction plan. It is fair to say that residents were deceived.
There has been a sign of change in Japan’s nuclear energy policy, a basic principle of which has been reprocessing of spent fuel. A plan has now been approved to construct “intermediate” storage facilities that will serve as a storage place between nuclear power plants and reprocessing plants. The plan calls for the storage of spent fuel for several decades. A bill to amend the law concerning businesses related to nuclear power was passed by the Upper House on June 9.
In the background to this change has been a number of requests to the central government by local governments where nuclear power plants are sited. Local governments have called for the removal of an ever-increasing amount of spent fuel accumulating in their jurisdictions. The requests also reflect a concern about delays in the construction of the Rokkasho reprocessing plant. With the development of fast-breeder reactors bogged down, and a resulting surplus of plutonium, the reprocessing of spent fuel has been inevitably slowed down. The new “intermediate” storage facilities will be constructed to accommodate the spent fuel for which there is no reprocessing plant.
Though the new storage facilities will be called “intermediate,” it is not clear how long fuel will actually be stored at the site. The claim, of course, is that the fuel will be stored for several decades and then sent to a reprocessing plant. But there is no guarantee that this will happen. In fact, it is likely that spent fuel will end up being placed in semi-permanent storage in the new facilities. The power industry says that they hope to have one or two storage facilities start operations by 2000, but as yet there are still no concrete plans for exactly where they will be constructed. According to the revised law, these facilities could be operated by power companies or by other firms.
The Atomic Energy Commission held the first two meetings of the Round Table Conference on Aromic Energy Policy this year, on June 15 and July 13 respectively. CNIC Co-Representative Hideyuki Ban attended both meetings. On June 24, CNIC Co-Representative Baku Nishio attended the second public consultation meeting of the Nuclear Sub-committee of the Advisory Committee for Energy .
At these meetings, a lack of flexibility in current nuclear fuel recycle policy was debated. Questions along these lines were even raised by proponents of nuclear power. A majority of those who testified expressed the view that policy indeed ought to be more flexible. In concrete terms, these majority views included a call for review of the FBR development program, more restraint on reprocessing, and a slowdown in plans regarding the disposal of high-level nuclear waste (consider, for example, options other than geologic disposal). With respect to the disposal of high-level waste, there was an emphasis in the debate on “extractability.” Again, the majority opinion called for continuing to hold waste on-site for the time being. Ban and Nishio, while basically maintaining a stance against the use of plutonium and in favor of de-nuclearization, were active in developing a majority opinion in support of the points outlined above.
However, this does not mean that any immediate change will take place in Japan’s nuclear power policy. The Long Term Program Council, which was established by the Atomic Energy Commission, held its first meeting on July 2, and began work to revise the Long Term Program for Research, Development and Utilization of Nuclear Energy (N.I.T. No. 71). As this process continues, CNIC will press for clear changes in existing policy.