NEWS WATCH from NUKE INFO TOKYO 76 (Mar./Apr. 2000)
from NUKE INFO TOKYO 76 (Mar./Apr. 2000)
— People of Maki-machi Once Again Vote Against Nuclear Plant
— Claims of Nuclear Power Costs Mere Propaganda
— JGC Corp. Sign Agreement on Business Collaboration with Korean Firm
— Nuclear Power Industry Plagued by Y2K Glitches
— Fire at Nuclear Plant in Miyagi Extinguishes Itself
People of Maki-machi Once Again Vote Against Nuclear Plant
In a plebiscite which was held in Maki-machi, Niigata Prefecture, on August 4, 1996, 61% of the voters opposed the plan by Tohoku Electric to construct a nuclear power plant in the area. At the mayoral election in Maki-machi on January 16, 2000, the current mayor, Takashi Sasaguchi, whose platform included the proposal to have Tohoku Electric abandon their construction plans, was reelected. The day after his re-election, the mayor expressed his intentions to personally visit Tohoku Electric and the Ministry of International Trade and Industry to demand that the plan be canceled. The company has refused to meet with the mayor.
Claims of Nuclear Power Costs Mere Propaganda
In December last year, for the first time in five years, the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy published the trial costs of power generation by types of power generators. According to the report, nuclear power costs ¥ 5.9 per 1 kWh, LNG-fired thermal power ¥ 6.4, coal-fired thermal power ¥ 6.5, petroleum-fired thermal power ¥ 10.2 and hydropower ¥ 13.6. It is no wonder that the nuclear power is the cheapest, for these figures are propaganda.
Over the past ten years, the Agency stated that the cost of power generation by nuclear power was ¥ 9/kWh. Why, then, was it reduced to ¥ 5.9/kWh? The explanation lies in the change of the assumptions guiding the calculation. First, the service life was lengthened: it used to be set to 15 years for thermal power and 16 years for nuclear power, but this was radically extended to 40 years. Then, the capacity factor was raised from 70% to 80%. These changes were made more advantageous to nuclear power plants, whose cost of construction is high and cost of fuel relatively low. There was no change in the conditions of hydropower: the service life was set to 40 years and the capacity factor 45%.
The reason for these changes is that without them the cost of LNG-fired thermal power would become cheaper, and the Agency could not say “nuclear power is the cheapest.” For reference, according to a trial calculation published five years ago, the cost of power generation by nuclear power and LNG-fired thermal power was the same, at ¥ 9/kWh, that by coal and petroleum was ¥ 10/kWh and by hydropower ¥ 13/kWh. In recent calculation LNG-fired thermal power was made to be only ¥ 0.5/kWh higher than nuclear power.
But even now, if we adjust the calculations totally with the current exchange rate of ¥ 128 to the dollar, the cost of LNG-fired thermal power becomes cheaper. It seems that the Agency will once again have to come up with altered conditions for the calculation to ensure that nuclear power seems to be the cheapest.
The Agency did not show any detailed breakdown when they published the trial values of power generation costs. Those details mentioned include only the cost of reprocessing (¥ 0.63/kWh), and the cost of treatment and disposal of radioactive wastes (¥ 0.25/kWh). If you work backwards and calculate the cost of reprocessing per 1 tHM of spent fuel from the reported reprocessing cost, you get a figure of less than ¥ 300 million. Since the actual cost of Rokkasho reprocessing plant is believed to be ¥ 300-500 million, the estimate for spent fuel is clearly too low. The treatment and disposal of radioactive waste is an inordinately expensive process, and for this reason alone there can be no question that nuclear power costs more than the Agency’s report has suggested.
Although it is not included in the recent trial calculation, as much as ¥ 400-500 billion has been appropriated every year from the national budget for nuclear power development. For thermal power development the budget appropriation is ¥ 20-25 billion. The fact that nuclear power requires a long-distance transmission, also adds significantly to the cost of this form of power.
JGC Corp. Sign Agreement on Business Collaboration with Korean Firm
JGC Corp. announced on February 15 that the company had signed a business agreement with KOPEC, a subsidiary of Korea Electric. Under this agreement, JGC will allow KOPEC to make use of its engineering know-how in all fields of radioactive waste management. Only last year Korea lifted its ban on imports of nuclear equipment and technologies from Japan. This agreement will be the first full-scale technical cooperation between the two countries.
In the immediate future, the major task will be the construction of low-level radioactive waste solidification facilities in nuclear plants in Korea. KOPEC is participating in the project to construct a light-water reactor in North Korea, and JGC is looking for an opportunity to join the project. It also aims at business expansion in the Asian market, including China, in cooperation with KOPEC.
Nuclear Power Industry Plagued by Y2K Glitches
Contrary to some people’s concerns, the arrival of the new century brought no major disruptions to nuclear power facilities in Japan. However, there were a number of small Y2K problems, and we cannot be entirely sure that there will be no further such problems in the future.
Some of the difficulties which occurred were caused by computers reading the year “99” as “2099” or “00” as “1900.” In many cases, the interruption of data processing meant that the malfunction was quickly recognized, allowing proper measures to be taken to avoid more serious difficulties. At Fukushima II-1, however, there was a bigger problem. For a while, the position of the control rods was unknown, apparently because operators were unaware that a built-in clock was set at Greenwich Mean Time.
Fire at Nuclear Plant in Miyagi Extinguishes Itself
A fire broke out on February 24, 2000, in a control building next to Tohoku Electric’s Onagawa 1 plant (BWR) in Miyagi Prefecture. The fire died out by itself, there were no radiation leak, and no one was injured. However, it took the company 15-25 minutes to inform local governments of the accident. Local residents are now greatly alarmed by the existing safety measures in case of accidents. Following the criticality accident at JCO, residents have become extremely sensitive to nuclear-related accidents, and efforts are being made across the nation to become more informed on nuclear issues.