News Watch 132 (September/October 2009) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 132
Japan and Mongolia sign Memorandum of Cooperation
On July 16, Toru Ishida, Director-General of the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) and Sodnom Enkhbat, Director General of Mongolia’s Regulatory Agency, the Nuclear Energy Agency, signed a memorandum of cooperation in the nuclear power field. The areas of cooperation include human resource development, uranium resource development, and the improvement of the investment environment in Mongolia. The signing coincided with a meeting in Japan between Mongolian Prime Minister Sanjaa Bayar and Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso. The agreement is for three years, but it can be extended with the agreement of both countries.
Advisory Committee on International Nuclear Relations established
The Advisory Committee on International Nuclear Relations, established by the Atomic Energy Commission, held its first and second meetings on July 23 and August 27 respectively. The Committee will consider issues related to cooperation with countries which do not currently have nuclear power programs, but which plan to introduce nuclear power plants. Its terms of reference cover the following five areas:
- the promotion of peaceful use and nuclear non-proliferation;
- strengthening of technical capacity;
- expansion of Japan’s nuclear industry abroad;
- promotion of global warming response;
- promotion of international contribution.
New framework for human resource development in Asia
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) have established the Career Development Program for Foreign Students in Japan. The program includes human resource development in the field of nuclear energy in Asia. Instructors will be sent abroad and students will be given the opportunity to train in Japan. Currently eight students are receiving training. They come from Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Thailand and Vietnam, all countries with plans to introduce nuclear power or to develop uranium resources. There are thirteen participating companies, including plant makers, electricity utilities and trading companies.
Negotiations begin for Japan-Korea Nuclear Cooperation Agreement
Negotiations for a Nuclear Cooperation Agreement between Japan and South Korea began in Seoul on July 30. The Prime Ministers of the two countries had agreed in January to proceed with negotiations. Discussions about the negotiation schedule and contents of the agreement have begun, but no details have been released. An agreement was signed in May 1990 concerning cooperation on information exchange and exchanges of experts, but that agreement did not cover transfer of nuclear technology, equipment and material.
First meeting of FNCA 3rd Phase
The first meeting of the Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia’s (FNCA) Study Panel on Approaches toward Infrastructure Development for Nuclear Power was held in Tokyo on July 30 and 31. FNCA is hosted by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission. The meeting was attended by nine countries – Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam and host country Japan – and the International Atomic Energy Agency. On the first day, Japan, China and South Korea gave presentations about their experiences of introducing nuclear power, while countries intending to introduce nuclear power reported on the current status of their plans. On the second day case studies were presented of activities to urge the international community to include nuclear energy in the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) system. A report on progress of the human resource development database was also presented.
On August 8 the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and the National Institute for Fusion Science (NIFS) of the National Institutes of Nature Sciences signed a cooperation agreement aimed at furthering research and development on nuclear fusion energy. JAEA owns the plasma device “JT-60” at Naka in Ibaraki Prefecture, while NIFS owns the Large Helical Device (LHD) in Toki in Gifu Prefecture. By employing their R&D skills and human resources in a complementary and integrated fashion, the two organizations aim to facilitate progress on the “ITER broad approach” being pursued at Rokkasho Village in Aomori Prefecture.
Monju restart this fiscal year?
On July 12 replacement of degraded fuel was completed at Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA) Monju Prototype Fast Breeder Reactor (FBR, 280 MW) located in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture. Then on August 12 final confirmation tests of the overall integrity of the plant were completed. The same day, Toshio Yamauchi, Senior Vice Minister of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), visited Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa and Tsuruga Mayor Kazuharu Kawase to officially communicate the government’s aim of restarting Monju this fiscal year (by March 31, 2010). JAEA wants to restart Monju as early as February. This would be two years later than the target date of February 2008 announced when modification work began in March 2005.
Report on FBR Cycle Demonstration Process
On July 28, the Five-Party Council for Smooth Transition to the FBR Cycle Demonstration Process delivered a report to the Atomic Energy Commission identifying technical issues and ways of advancing the FBR demonstration process. The five parties are the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC), Japan Electrical Manufacturers’ Association (JEMA) and Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA). The Council is made up of administrators and researchers.The report suggested that the transition from light water reactors (LWR) would take longer than expected. It also suggested that a common facility could be used to reprocess spent fuel from both LWRs and FBRs and that plutonium recovered from FBR spent fuel could be used to fuel the LWR pluthermal program instead of the FBR program. Emphasis was placed on points that would bind utilities to the process, even though they would prefer to escape.
Defective MOX fuel pellets
On August 19, Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) announced that some of the fuel pellets being fabricated at Areva’s Melox plant for its Takahama-3&4 reactors (PWR, 870 MW) failed to meet its own internal standards. It decided not to use the defective pellets and to reduce its order from 8 fuel assemblies each for the two reactors to 8 assemblies for Unit 3 and 4 assemblies for Unit 4.KEPCO refused to disclose costs or the results of the inspection on the grounds that they are commercial in confidence under the terms of its contract with Melox. It also said that it does not have sufficient information. KEPCO’s response exposes the defects of the quality control system. Melox effectively has a monopoly over MOX fuel fabrication, so customers are forced to accept relaxation of standards. The defective pellets were assessed against these loose standards. Melox refused to provide data and resisted halting production claiming that the pellets were usable.