News Watch

FNCA Symposium

The Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia (FNCA), in which Japan’s Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology play a central role and which promotes cooperation in nuclear power technology among the countries of Asia, held a symposium in Tokyo on February 13 to consider Japan’s future role. Twelve countries: Japan, Australia, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mongolia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam, participate in the FNCA, whose activities include ministerial level meetings, coordinator meetings, panels and projects. The projects mostly emphasize the uses of radiation.

About 100 people from 10 countries participated in the symposium, reporting research results on uses of radiation, such as for treating cancer or in radiation breeding. The Philippine delegation appeared to urge the preparation of a 10 MW research reactor in anticipation of a need to cultivate human resources for nuclear power plants.

In the panel discussion on Japan’s role, one request after another was made for assistance, such as “Education is the basis for everything, so we would really like support from a country with knowledge,” and “Human resources should be cultivated through the FNCA.”

Horizon Nuclear Power of the UK Teaming up with Exelon of America

Horizon Nuclear Power, a fully owned British subsidiary of Hitachi, Ltd. announced on February 15 that it had formed a cooperative partnership with Exelon Generation International of the US, a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation, regarding plans to build a nuclear power plant (NPP) at the Wylfa Newydd site on the island of Anglesey in Wales. Exelon is America’s largest company in the NPP field, with experience operating 22 reactors, 13 of which were BWR.

With the Wylfa Newydd plans, Horizon Nuclear Power expects to construct at least 2,700 MW of ABWR capacity in Britain. It aims to begin operating the first of these reactors in the first half of the 2020s. As this constitutes the company’s first nuclear energy project, it has therefore been seeking cooperative partnerships with a number of countries overseas to operate the NPP successfully after its completion. The main fields in which Horizon expects to benefit from the transfer of the partner’s superior skills as an NPP operator are operation and maintenance management of NPPs, training of human resources, BWR operating experience, and specialist knowledge of licensing in the UK.

The company had previously entered into a cooperative agreement with the Japan Atomic Power Company on July 7, 2016. They are cooperating in activities to assess the costs of constructing the NPP, as well as Engineering Procurement Contracts (EPC) for construction, and in gaining approval for things like siting and drawing up plans for test operation and all forms of maintenance. The Japan Atomic Power Company is considering business collaboration with Exelon Generation International, and is expected to participate in the management of the Wylfa Newydd NPP once it starts operating.

Malfunctioning Crane at Tokai Reprocessing Plant Halts Vitrification

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Engineering Laboratories announced on February 17 that remote control equipment had malfunctioned during operations to vitrify high-level radioactive wastes being stored at the Tokai Reprocessing Plant, causing the vitrification facilities’ operations to be halted. An accident occurred at these same facilities on March 30, 2016, in which a crane being used to transfer the prepared vitrified bodies to storage cells malfunctioned, failing to release a vitrified body in its grip. As a result, four vitrified bodies could not be placed in storage. Vitrification was halted again right after its resumption on January 30, 2017 after a 10-month hiatus.

According to the laboratories, it was the same crane this time that malfunctioned. On February 13, it started making strange noises, and on the 14th, an overcurrent was detected. On the 16th, a worker entering one of the cells enclosed by concrete walls to investigate it identified the crane’s clutch as the source of the strange noises. That day at 9:00 p.m., electricity was shut off to the smelting furnace where the liquid waste is mixed with glass materials, and vitrification was halted. Operations resumed on 18 March 2017.

Further Delays in Investigating Fukushima Unit 2 Reactor Interior

TEPCO sent a self-propelled investigative robot, dubbed “Sasori (scorpion)” into the Fukushima Daiichi NPP Unit 2 reactor on February 16 after a year-and-a-half delay, but its left-side caterpillar tread froze up as it travelled along an equipment replacement rail into the interior of the reactor vessel, leaving it unable to traverse the rail and transfer onto the scaffolding where it was to perform its work. It could not be recovered, either, so the investigation was called off, its cable was cut, and it was abandoned on the rail.

TEPCO was able to get radiation level and temperature readings, and praised its own efforts for the “remarkable world’s first” distinct footage of the reactor interior. It also claims that the inability to recover the robot was within expectations and “not a failure.” With it being the world’s first such accident, it’s no wonder they achieved a world’s first in responding to it.

TEPCO Notifies Major Canadian Uranium Firm of Contract Cancellation

The major Canadian uranium producer Cameco announced on February 1 that it had received a notification from TEPCO that its 1.3 billion Canadian dollar uranium supply contract was being cancelled. Cancellation of this contract means that fate of the approximately 4200 tons of uranium to be supplied until 2028 will be up in the air. Cameco is indicating that it will take legal action against TEPCO for breach of contract.

Toshiba’s NPP Deficit Grows Ever Greater

Toshiba decided on February 14 that it was delaying its statement of accounts, which was scheduled to be announced that day, by one month to give it time to investigate accounting irregularities that had been revealed by a whistle-blower at its subsidiary Westinghouse (WEC). Instead, it announced results indicating an outlook for a 712.5 billion yen deficit in its NPP business. It decided to reduce its 87% stake in WEC, but on the 16th, IHI Corporation sent notice that it would exercise its put option on 3% of the shares held. Toshiba accepted that on the 17th, announcing that it would buy them this coming May 17 (the remaining 10% are held by Kazatomprom). On the 22nd, a U.S. electric utility provider said it had been requested by WEC to delay the construction of Units 3 and 4 of the “Plant Vogtle” NPP in Georgia. It has likewise requested a delay for Units 2 and 3 of the Summer NPP in South Carolina, and the increased costs of this will be borne by WEC and Toshiba.

Hitachi Also Expecting Loss in US Nuclear Energy Business

In its statement of accounts for the fiscal year ending March 2017, Hitachi announced on February 1 that it was making allowances for a 70 billion yen loss in its earnings forecast in connection with its nuclear energy business in the US. GE Hitachi Laser Enrichment, a subsidiary of GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH), which is 40% owned by Hitachi and 60% by GE, has abandoned uranium enrichment technology development, and because it could not acquire the earnings it had expected, Hitachi has taken a loss of 70 billion yen on the 80 billion it invested in GEH.

Hitachi explains that because GEH was unable to acquire future earnings that had been anticipated from uranium enrichment using the new technology that was under development but has now been abandoned, the price of the GEH shares Hitachi held has fallen.

Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP Anti-seismic Building Insufficiently Quake-proof

At a meeting to examine Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP Units 6 and 7 on February 14 for compliance with the new regulatory standards, TEPCO revealed the possibility for the first time that the key anti-seismic building, which was expected to serve as a center for emergency response in the event of a severe accident, might not be able to withstand even half the level of shaking of the anticipated strongest earthquake (standard seismic motion). Emergency response headquarters were to be established in both the key anti-seismic building and Unit 5 reactor building for combined use, because based on the results of a simple analysis, if part of the longer-period seismic motions were excluded, the building would be capable of withstanding the tremors, but a trial calculation in 2014 revealed that not all tremors could be withstood. These results were not conveyed to the personnel in charge of handling the examination. Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority expressed distrust of TEPCO, including its technical capabilities, for its severe organizational “illness.” On February 28, they called the company president and directed him to resubmit the application for examination.

Proposal for Approval of Japan-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement Submitted to Diet

The cabinet adopted a proposal on February 24 for approving the Japan-India Nuclear Cooperation Agreement and submitted it to the Diet. This Agreement was signed by both countries when Indian Prime Minister Modi visited Japan on November 11 last year (News Watch No. 175). See NIT No. 174 for a detailed look at problems with the deal.

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