News Watch 128 (January/February 2009) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 128
NIT 127 reported on Japan’s pluthermal plans, but there were several new developments in November and December.On November 5, Tohoku Electric Power Company applied to Miyagi Prefecture and the local governments of Onagawa Town and neighboring Ishinomaki Town for permission to implement pluthermal at its Onagawa-2 reactor (BWR, 825 MW). The following day, without waiting for approval from the local authorities, Tohoku Electric went ahead with an application to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry.
On November 10, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) applied to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry for inspection of 16 MOX fuel assemblies to be imported for its Takahama-3&4 plants (PWR, 870 MW each). On the 21st it entered into a contract with Nuclear Fuel Industries (NFI) for an additional 32 assemblies. On the same day, NFI signed a contract for the additional assemblies to be fabricated at Areva’s Melox plant in southern France. It is planned that fabrication of the previously ordered 16 assemblies, which will also be carried out at the Melox plant, will begin early this year. Initially 8 MOX assemblies each will be loaded into reactors 3 and 4. The second load will comprise 16 MOX assemblies each. The third load will also comprise 16 assemblies each, but these assemblies have not yet been ordered. When all these MOX assemblies have been loaded, about a quarter of the core will be MOX fuel.
On December 14, a committee of experts, established by Hokkaido Prefecture, Tomari Village and the three surrounding towns to look into the pluthermal plan for Tomari-3 (PWR, 912 MW), submitted its final report. The report concluded that the plan was safe and on December 19 the Tomari Village Council gave its approval.
On December 4, a consultative committee meeting was held by the four towns in Fukushima Prefecture which host nuclear power plants. The meeting agreed to consider in a positive fashion the question of whether or not to approve the implementation of pluthermal at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima I-3 (BWR, 784 MW). Meanwhile, the prefectural government maintains its cautious stance. MOX fuel was delivered to Fukushima I-3 in September 1999, but the governor rescinded his approval of TEPCO’s pluthermal plan in September 2002, after it was discovered that TEPCO had covered up problems at its nuclear power plants.
MOX Transports from Europe in First Half of 2009
On December 28, Kyodo News reported that it had been informed that MOX fuel fabricated at Areva’s Melox plant would leave France some time during the first three months of 2009 and arrive in Japan between April and June. Fuel would be shipped for three companies as follows: 16 assemblies for Kyushu Electric’s Genkai-3 (PWR, 1,180 MW), 21 assemblies for Shikoku Electric’s Ikata-3 (PWR, 890 MW), and 28 assemblies for Chubu Electric’s Hamaoka-4 (BWR, 1,137 MW). Fabrication of MOX assemblies for the first two companies has already been completed.The most likely route is thought to be around South Africa. This route has been used on two previous occasions. However, it is also possible that the fuel could be shipped around South America, or through the Panama Canal. Secrecy concerning the time and route is even greater than in the past, on the grounds of protection of nuclear materials.
Sunameri Whales Appeal for Reversal of Permission to Reclaim Sea
As reported in NIT 127, on October 22, 2008 the governor of Yamaguchi Prefecture gave permission for the reclamation of an area of sea for Units 1 and 2 of Chugoku Electric’s planned Kaminoseki Nuclear Power Plant (ABWR, 1,373 MW each). In response, on December 2 an appeal for reversal of the decision was submitted to the Yamaguchi District Court on behalf of six endangered species, including sunameri whales and crested murrelets (a small seabird). Wild species are said to be emblematic of the negative effects that the reclamation will have on the ecology of the region. There have been previous examples of suits taken out in support of the “rights of nature”, but no case has ever been won in Japan.
Application to Build 3rd Reactor at Sendai
On January 8, Kyushu Electric Power Company officially applied for approval to build a third reactor (APWR, 1,590 MW) at its Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Satsumasendai City, Kagoshima Prefecture. Kyushu Electric also submitted a draft environmental impact statement to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry. It plans to begin operations at the new plant during the 2019 fiscal year.From the afternoon of January 7, about thirty members of civil society groups staged an all night demonstration in front of the Prefectural Offices. They pitched a tent in front of the entrance and displayed banners with slogans such as “Why Rush to Build?”
Uranium Enrichment Plant: Last Cascade Barely Functioning
On December 9, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd (JNFL) announced that more centrifuges in the final operating cascade of its Rokkasho Uranium Enrichment Plant would be removed from service. The plant, which commenced operation in 1992, was originally intended to have ten cascades, but only seven were installed. Each cascade has about 4,000 centrifuges and has a capacity of 150 tonSWU/year, meaning that the plant as a whole has a theoretical capacity of 1,050 tonSWU/year. However, as centrifuges aged and the speed at which they rotated fell, they were removed from service. When the number of out of service centrifuges in a cascade rose above a certain level, the whole cascade was stopped. Six of the seven cascades have already been stopped completely.This was the second time centrifuges in the final cascade have been removed from service. Previously some centrifuges were removed from service in November 2007. The remaining capacity has not been disclosed. It is said to be “sensitive information” on non-proliferation grounds. However, based on the experience of the other cascades, it would not have been surprising if JNFL had closed down the final cascade completely.
The only reason why it is being kept operating seems to be that it would look bad if the capacity were to fall to zero before the new “advanced centrifuges” are introduced. On December 16, JNFL submitted an application to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry for permission to introduce the new centrifuges. The capacity of each centrifuge is claimed to be five times that of the existing centrifuges. Enrichment using these centrifuges is scheduled to begin during the 2010 fiscal year. The plan is to increase the capacity of the plant to the originally planned 1,500 tonSWU/year over the following ten years.
Areva and Mitsubishi Form New Nuclear Fuel Company
On December 22, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI), Mitsubishi Materials Corp., Mitsubishi Corp. and Areva announced that they would establish a new nuclear fuel company. The company will integrate design, development, fabrication and sales of nuclear fuel. It will succeed Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel Co. Ltd. (Tokai Village), which is jointly owned by MHI and Mitsubishi Materials. MHI will hold 35% of the shares in the new company, while Mitsubishi Materials Corp., Areva and Mitsubishi Corp. will hold 30%, 30% and 5% respectively. Mitsubishi Nuclear Fuel has hitherto fabricated PWR fuel for use in Japanese reactors. The new company intends to produce uranium fuel and MOX fuel for PWRs and BWRs, as well as fuel for high-temperature gas reactors for Japanese customers and to produce PWR fuel for reactors in countries other than Japan. The partners also announced their intention to invest in a new plant to produce PWR fuel for the US market.The strengthening of links between MHI and Areva could be seen as accelerating the shift away from the situation where Japanese nuclear plant makers were located within the framework of “national policy”.
TEPCO Considers Building Reactors Overseas
On December 17, in an interview with Kyodo News, Tokyo Electric Power Company President, Masataka Shimizu, expressed interest in building nuclear plants in Asia. The Kyodo report cited Vietnam and India as likely candidates. The report said that TEPCO might set up joint ventures with local utilities and that TEPCO will study the possibility of launching overseas power generation jointly with a Japanese equipment maker.Under conditions of stagnant demand for electricity in Japan, TEPCO is looking for new sources of income. Kyodo quoted Shimizu as saying, “Tokyo Electric has accumulated considerable knowhow on the construction, maintenance and operation of nuclear power stations…Based on the assumption that it (overseas nuclear power generation) is profitable, I think we should give it a try.”
Japanese power companies have participated in hydroelectric and thermal power plant projects in the past, so it is not surprising that they should contemplate nuclear projects as well, but this is the first specific mention. In the past they even had reservations about exports by Japanese plant makers, saying they didn’t want to suffer knock-on effects from accidents overseas.