News Watch 81 (Jan./Feb. 2001) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 81
The Electric Power Development Coordination Council met on 20 Oct. 2000, and Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s plan to construct Tomari 3 (PWR, 912 MW) was officially included in the national government’s basic plan for power-source development. The utility will shortly apply for construction permission to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry, and then the safety review will be conducted.
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the sole PWR manufacturer in Japan, has welcomed this development since it is the first such construction order since Genkai 4 in 1985. However, the situation is not all rosy, since the company has been asked to reduce the construction cost by 10-20%. In addition, prospects for additional orders after Tomari 3 remain dim.
The Fukushima Prefecture Tomioka Labor Standards Inspection Office has recognized a nuclear worker’s death as an injury caused by occupational exposure. The worker had worked at nuclear plants in Fukushima Prefecture and died of leukemia, at the age of 47, in Nov. 1999. He had worked at nuclear plants for about 11 years, as a welder under a subcontractor of Tokyo Electric Power Co. The radiation dose was as high as 74.9 mSv. He contracted leukemia in Oct. 1999, and died one month later.
Aside from the three radiation victims of the JCO accident, this is the fifth case in which injuries have been recognized as caused by occupational radiation exposure. All five cases involved people who contracted leukemia and only one of them was recognized while the victim was still alive. There have been no cases in which illnesses other than leukemia were recognized as occupational hazards caused by radiation exposure, as it is difficult to establish a causal relationship between disorders and occupational exposure.
On 1 Nov. 2000, the Mito District Prosecutor’s Office indicted six employees of the JCO Co., including the former director, on charges of professional negligence resulting in two fatalities. This follows the deaths of two workers as a result of the criticality accident at JCO Tokai Plant in Sep. 1999. One of those indicted was working with the victims at the time of the accident, and was himself exposed to a high level of radiation.
Also indicted are three senior employees, as well as JCO itself, which is charged with violating the Law on the Regulation of Nuclear Source Material, Nuclear Fuel Material and Reactors by altering production procedures without government approval. In spite of the fact that it was a company-wide violation, the then-president was not indicted for the reason that he had only been at JCO for three months, and was thus not in a position to know of the violations.
On 6 October 2000 there was a big earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 on the Richter scale in the western part of Tottori Prefecture. Fortunately the area suffered only minor damage, but this earthquake was a further reminder that most of the Japanese archipelago has entered a period of intense seismic activity. Furthermore, it is significant that an earthquake with a magnitude of 7, and with an epicenter not very far below the earth’s surface, occurred in an area where no active fault had been known. This is significant because the promoters of nuclear energy have been claiming that as long as nuclear facilities are located away from active faults, there cannot be an earthquake with an epicenter directly below a nuclear site.
Neither of the two reactors at Shimane Nuclear Plant, located very close to the earthquake area, were damaged since they had been shut down for periodic inspections at the time of the quake. The reactors were both under periodic inspections because the shroud replacement at Shimane 1 took longer than usual. On 4 October 2000, Chugoku Electric Power Co. applied to the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) for permission for the construction of a third reactor at Shimane plant.
On 14 Oct. 2000 the Hokkaido Governor expressed his willingness to accept the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute’s plan to build an Underground Research Laboratory in Horonobe-cho, Hokkaido, for high level radioactive waste disposal research. This was in spite of the strong opposition reported in News Watch in the previous issue.
In order to suppress the opposition, the governor proposed to the assembly a prefectural ordinance declaring extreme reluctance to allow high level radioactive waste to enter Hokkaido. The prefectural assembly passed this ordinance on 16 Oct. 2000. MITI’s assessment of this ordinance is that “the wording is not so strong as to completely ban the entry of radioactive waste.” However, MITI is concerned that other prefectures will adopt similar ordinances.
The Japan Federation of the Bar Association (JFBA) held its Convention on the Protection of Human Rights on 6 Oct. 2000 in Gifu City, during which it adopted a resolution clearly proposing nuclear power phase-out. In the past the Association has proposed a review of the government’s nuclear policy, including the plutonium policy, but this is the first time it has referred to the abolishment of existing nuclear plants.
The main content of the proposal is as follows: (1) to stop new and additional construction of reactors, and gradually phase out existing reactors; (2) to make aggressive efforts to reduce energy consumption, and establish a law which would encourage the research, development and adoption of renewable energy sources; (3) to make nuclear safety and regulatory administration independent from pro-nuclear government ministries and agencies; (4) to stop reprocessing of spent fuel, conduct studies on its direct disposal and create a legal system to allow direct disposal; and (5) to freeze the geological disposal policy for high level radioactive waste and promote studies which would explore various alternatives.
Inside information has revealed that the development of the Eddy Current Test (ECT) equipment for Monju Fast Breeder Reactor’s steam generator (SG) has been met with great difficulty and the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Co. has given up on the development. ECT is a technology used to detect cracks in the pipes of the SG. Following the revelation, JNC announced that Mitsubishi has not given up on the project, but admitted that the development of the ECT has not been completed yet.
The most recent revised draft of the Long-Term Program for the Research, Development, and Utilization of Nuclear Energy ─ which is the basis of Japan’s nuclear policy ─ was made public this summer and there was a public consultation period until mid-Oct. 2000. One of its main plans was to re-start Monju as soon as possible. Though citizens informed the Program’s review committee on the problem with Monju’s SG, the committee finalized the draft in late-Nov. 2000 without making any alterations to the plans for the early re-start of Monju.