News Watch 131 (July/August 2009) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 131
Replacement of Monju fuel begun
On June 24 Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) began replacing old fuel with new fuel in its prototype fast breeder reactor (FBR) Monju (280 MW) located in Tsuruga City in Fukui Prefecture. Over thirteen years have elapsed since the reactor was shut down due to a sodium leak and fire in 1995. During that time much of the plutonium-241 has decayed to americium-241. As a result, the amount of fissile plutonium in the fuel is less than it was. It is therefore necessary to replace 84 of the reactor’s 198 fuel assemblies. Three fuel assemblies in the blanket and 19 control rods were also replaced as a part of plant confirmation inspections that were resumed on June 1. Starting at the end of July, the remaining seven inspection items will be carried out.
Application for approval of Hamaoka-1&2 decommissioning plan
On June 1 Chubu Electric Power Company applied to the Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry for approval of the decommissioning plan for its Hamaoka-1&2 units (BWR, 540 MW & 840 MW). The two units were permanently shut down on January 30 this year. The plan is to begin dismantling equipment around the reactors in 2015 and to finish decommissioning by 2036. It is predicted that decommissioning of the two units will produce a total of 483,300 tons of waste, including 16,600 tons that will be treated as radioactive waste. It is estimated that dismantling the plants and disposal of the waste will cost 84 billion yen.
METI releases nuclear power promotion policy
On June 18 the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) finalized a nuclear power promotion policy. The policy statement claims that it will be necessary for nuclear to reach around 40% of total electricity supply in 2020. It envisages that by 2018 nine new reactors will be built, power uprates will be carried out and the capacity factor (which has fallen in recent years) will be raised from around 60% to around 80%. In regard to the nuclear fuel cycle, it is proposed that the government, Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) work together for the smooth operation of the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, that spent fuel storage capacity be increased, that the pluthermal plan and fast breeder development be promoted, that a stable supply of uranium fuel be secured, and so on. In regard to the search for a high-level waste disposal facility, it is claimed that documentary studies will be carried out at an early date at several candidate sites (the more the merrier). Applications from candidate sites may be called for through public invitations, or the government may approach potential candidates directly.
International Nuclear Energy Cooperation Council formed
The International Nuclear Energy Cooperation Council was established on June 18. The new body includes representatives from both government and the private sector. The core organization is the Ministry for Economy, Trade and Industry (METI). Other participating organizations include the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC), plant makers, academic institutions and research centers. The purpose of the Council is to pass on knowhow about nuclear security and safety to countries aiming to introduce nuclear power, in particular in Asia, and to help Japanese nuclear industry get a foothold for securing uranium resources and exporting nuclear power plants.
Satellite office for advancement of FBR
On June 1, Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Mitsubishi FBR Systems (MFBR) established a satellite office for the advancement of fast breeder reactors (FBR) in JAEA’s Oarai Research and Development Center. The Joyo experimental FBR (140 MW) is also located in JAEA’s Oarai facility (Ibaraki Prefecture).
As the principal research and development organization, JAEA will manage and lead the project. MHI is the core company, while MFBR will participate as a specialist engineering company. The project is called the Fast Reactor Cycle System Technology Development Project (FaCT). The satellite office will establish the appropriate conditions for improving the efficiency of reactor design and resolving technical problems. In order to strengthen coordination of reactor core and nuclear fuel safety analysis, JAEA has taken in engineers from MHI and MFBR.
Review of Japan’s nuclear energy policy postponed
The Japan Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1956. In that year it produced a Basic Plan for Research, Development and Utilization of Nuclear Energy. Five years later, in 1961 it established the Long-Term Plan for Research, Development and Utilization of Nuclear Energy. It has renewed this long-term plan at approximately five year intervals ever since. In 2005 it produced a new policy, changing the name to Framework for Nuclear Energy Policy.
Next year it will be five years since the last plan was approved. However, on July 2 Kyodo News reported that establishment of a nuclear policy planning council to produce a new plan had been postponed. According to the article, the reason for the delay was that it is unclear what direction the new policy should take. That is because it is impossible to predict when the troubled Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, the core facility in Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle, will begin commercial operations.
Japanese High Temperature Gas Reactor technology to Kazakhstan
Kyodo News reported that on June 19 the director of the Kazakhstan National Nuclear Center, Kairat Kadyrzhanov, announced a plan to build a high temperature gas reactor using Japanese technology. The reactor is to be built at Kurchatov near Semipalatinsk, the former Soviet Union’s nuclear weapons test site in north-east Kazakhstan.
Kadyrzhanov said that the reactor would be based on Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) technology and that Toshiba and Kazatomprom are currently negotiating to set up a joint company. JAEA owns the High Temperature Engineering Test Reactor (HTTR, 30 MWt) at Oarai in Ibaraki Prefecture.
Kurchatov’s first high temperature reactor will have a power output of 50 MWe and also provide heating and hot water. If things go according to plan, construction will be completed in 2018 and commercial operation will begin in 2022. It is estimated that the price will be over $500,000. The Japanese side will provide over half the finance, while Russia and Slovakia are also interested in being involved. It is said that Kazakhstan will apply to the Japan Bank of International Cooperation (JBIC) for support.
Electric power companies, Itochu to develop uranium mine in WA
On June 18, three electric power companies, Kansai Electric, Kyushu Electric and Shikoku Electric, along with Itochu Corporation announced that they will participate in feasibility studies for development of a uranium mine at Lake Maitland in Western Australia. The investment will be made via their jointly owned investment company, Japan-Australia Uranium Resource Development (JAURD). The estimated uranium deposit is 9,100 tons. They aim to commence production in 2011.
If the results of the feasibility studies are favorable and they decide to participate in further development, they will receive a 30% interest (the monetary value was not disclosed) in the mine from Canada’s Mega Uranium. Itochu will receive a further 5% through a different subsidiary.
JOGMEC to explore for uranium in Uzbekistan
On June 16, Japan Oil, Gas and Metals National Corporation (JOGMEC) announced that it had signed a joint uranium exploration agreement with Uzbekistan’s GOSCOMGEOLOGY. The estimated uranium deposit is 5,000 tons. Three mining properties in Kyzylkum in Uzbekistan’s Navoi Province will be explored. The survey results will be compiled by March 2010 in order to determine whether to continue the survey. If an economically viable deposit is discovered, JOGMEC says that a Japanese private company will take over.