NEWS WATCH from NUKE INFO TOKYO 75 (Jan./Feb. 2000)
from NUKE INFO TOKYO 75 (Jan./Feb. 2000)
— Fifth Shipment of High-Level Waste
— Nuclear Industry Accelerates Restructuring
— Sales Further Reduced for the Nuclear Industry
— Advanced Move for NSC’s Autonomy
— Formal Contract Signed between KEDO and KEPCO
Fifth Shipment of High-Level Waste
The ship ‘Pacific Swan,’ carrying high-level radioactive waste destined for Japan, left France on Dec. 29, 1999. This is the fifth shipment of high-level waste, and the waste is planned to be loaded at Rokkasho, Aomori prefecture. This shipment is highly controversial because of its contents and because of security issues due to the transfer of control of the Panama canal from the U.S. to the government of Panama.
The French Company COGEMA is returning 104 canisters of vitrified waste. The waste was produced at COGEMA’s UP-2 plant. As all spent fuel from Japan is processed at the UP-3 plant, this means that wastes from French gas-cooled reactors and Super Phoenix Reactor reprocessed at UP-2 are coming to Japan.
The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) assumed control of the canal at noon on Dec. 31, 1999. Concerns over terrorist attacks on the Pacific Swan forced PCA to step up security. The ship passed through the Panama Canal on Jan. 17, 2000 amid the tightest security operation since Panama took over the waterway. The ship is expected to arrive in Japan in late February.
Nuclear Industry Accelerates Restructuring
Unreasonable cost-cutting decisions have been cited as one of the factors leading to JCO’s criticality accident. During fiscal years 1995-1998, JCO’s annual production decreased by 25%, and with price reductions added to this, the company’s sales fell by 50%. This led to a drastic reduction in personnel while workload per worker nearly doubled.
Such price reductions were demanded by power companies, which cited as their major reason the current wave of liberalization sweeping the electric power industry. These price-cutting demands were made not only to JCO but to all reactor manufacturers and nuclear fuel makers, resulting in overall price reductions of 20-30%.
Production work itself has been on the decline. Orders received by Toshiba and Hitachi in the 1990s were only half of those received during the 70s and 80s. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries received no orders. As a consequence, the companies have accelerated staff reduction plans. (See the next article.)
Cost reduction leaves less room for safety. Following are some of the comments made by employees of manufacturers that reached the mass media. ‘The power companies used to demand that we make products whose quality was far above safety standards, but now they tell us it’s okay if the products meet the basic standards.’ ‘The power companies used to tell us it’s time to change equipment, but now they ask if we can use it a bit longer.’
Sales Further Reduced for the Nuclear Industry
On Dec. 18, 1999, the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (JAIF) published its FY1998 survey report on the state of the nuclear power industry. The report was a compilation of responses to a questionnaire from 11 electric power companies, 376 companies in the manufacturing and mining industry, and 32 trading companies.
According to the report, nuclear power-related sales in the manufacturing and mining industry were 1.34 trillion yen, a 19% decrease from the previous fiscal year. Since the previous year also saw a 12% decrease, sales fell two years in a row. Sales from power enterprises was 980 billion yen, or 73% of the total sales. This amount is almost half of that in FY1993, which was 1.74 trillion yen.
There are 56,000 workers in the field of nuclear power. This includes 10,000 in the power enterprise and 46,000 in the manufacturing and mining sector. This figure represents a 2% rise from the previous fiscal year, but 5,000 fewer as compared to that of five years earlier. There are 2,000 researchers, 300 people less than the previous year and 1,200 less than that of five years earlier.
A question in the survey asked whether or not it is possible to construct 20 additional power reactors by 2010. Those who said ‘possible’ accounted for 8.5% of the answers. Those who thought it was ‘possible to build 16-19 reactors’ were 0.4% of those surveyed. The rest broke down as follows: ’11-15 reactors,’ 11.7%; ‘6-10 reactors,’ 57.1% and ‘1-5 reactors,’ 22.3%.
Advanced Move for NSC’s Autonomy
The autonomy of the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) remains in doubt. The Commission does not have an independent secretariat. Instead, administrative responsibilities are lodged with the Science and Technology Agency (STA). Plans were originally in place to move the secretariat to the new Cabinet Office as part of Government restructuring scheduled for implementation in Jan. 2001. However, it was announced on Dec. 22, 1999, that the secretariat would move in April 2000 to the current Prime Minister’s Office, which will later be absorbed into the Cabinet Office.
With this move the number of staff members of the secretariat will significantly increase from the current number of 20 to 92. There will be 51 staff from the Prime Minister’s Office, plus 41 part-time experts. The NSC members will remain at five. On the same day, another plan was announced to increase the number of nuclear-related staff members: 60 for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and 23 for the STA. The increase at MITI includes 30 nuclear safety inspectors and 16 specialists on nuclear accident prevention. At STA an additional 16 safety inspectors and 7 specialists on accident prevention will be appointed. This significant increase in staff by the Government was made possible by the criticality accident at JCO. But there are still some very fundamental questions remaining. Will an increase in staff members make Japan’s nuclear safety administration, which has overlooked various accidents and incidents of data forging, more effective? Will the autonomy of the NSC really be secured?
Formal Contract Signed between KEDO and KEPCO
Construction work on the main body of the two pressurized water reactors (PWRs, 1050MW each), which the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) is planning to build in North Korea, is finally about to begin. The foundation work began in Aug. 1997, but construction has been delayed. The formal contract was signed on Dec.15, 1999, between KEDO and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO). KEPCO, the main contractor, also concluded project contracts with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and Hitachi, which will take part in the construction.
The construction cost amounts to about $4.6 billion: The South Korean side will apparently finance $3.22 billion, Japan $1 billion, and the U.S. is expected to take responsibility for raising funds domestically and from abroad for the remainder. Although Japan lifted sanctions against North Korea’s launching of the Tepodon missile in Aug. 1998, and while the Diet approved the funding for the project in June 1999, South Korea has been having difficulty in raising funds. The exact costs to be covered by the U.S. has also not been decided. The future of this construction project thus remains unclear.