News Watch (NIT 181)
Kobe Steel admitted on October 8 to rewriting inspection certificates for some of its products and other misconduct. Since then, one scandal after another has come to light, affecting many more of its products. In fact, the company appears to have been falsifying data or cheating in other ways for decades.
Deliveries to nuclear power facilities have also been affected by these scandals. One case, revealed on October 13, involved replacement pipes that were scheduled to be used in a heat exchanger of a residual heat removal system at Fukushima Daini Unit 3 (BWR, 1,100 MW). Another came to light on the 25th regarding centrifuge parts that had not yet been used at the Rokkasho uranium enrichment plant. Components produced by Kobe Steel include items like radiating fins on fuel transport casks and welding materials used in feed water heaters, the upper lids of PWR pressure vessels, moisture separation superheaters, light water reactor fuel cladding tubes, nuclear reactor pressure vessels, and so on. As of November 15, however, no improprieties involving these items had been reported.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has called for the electric power companies to ensure that the components in question are not being used. The electric power companies are requesting similar confirmation from the plant makers. Leaving this up to such voluntary measures, however, is no way to pursue the truth. Related businesses should be asked to conduct a thorough investigation and report the results.
Chubu Electric Power Co. (Chuden) announced on October 17 that it had filed an application with the NRA to confirm whether or not its radioactive concentration measurement and evaluation methods, necessary for applying the clearance system in disposing of demolition wastes generated in the course of decommissioning work at Units 1 (BWR, 540 MW) and 2 (BWR, 840 MW) at the Hamaoka Nuclear Power Station, would be adequate or not for applying that system. For decommissioned nuclear power plants (NPPs), the clearance system has been used previously at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai NPP (GCR, 166 MW), so this would be the second instance.
According to Chuden, there are about 77,000 tons of waste scheduled to be treated under this system. This time, the target is about 6,900 tons of metals generated up to fiscal 2018 by the dismantling of turbines, main condensers, etc. Upon receiving approval from the NRA for its radioactive concentration measurement and evaluation methods, it will use those methods to conduct actual measurements of the target materials. If it can get the NRA to confirm its results, it will be able to dispose of the materials or reuse them as “wastes cleared from radiation regulations.”
However, because society lacks an advanced understanding of the clearance system, Chuden will temporarily store it on-site in an area for items awaiting shipment. Some of the clearance wastes from the Tokai NPP have been machined into chair legs for a nuclear power PR center and are being used to promote society’s understanding, but this is not having much of an effect.
Japan’s Nikkei daily newspaper carried a front-page article on October 17 titled “Ohi NPP to Decommission Two Units.” It said that Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) was close to making a final decision to decommission Units 1 and 2 at the plant (both PWR, 1175 MW). KEPCO immediately denied that on its website, saying, “It is not true that we have established a policy for decommissioning the reactors.” In response to another article stating that KEPCO is carrying out coordination with local municipalities and other parties in Fukui,” the municipalities denied any coordination. KEPCO has been insisting obstinately on proceeding with preparations for restart, but other papers have all backed Nikkei’s assertion in their own subsequent articles.
KEPCO’s petitions to extend the operating period of Unit 3 at the Mihama NPP and Units 1 and 2 at the Takahama NPP (all PWR, 826 MW) to 60 years have recently been approved. It has been explained that although Mihama Units 1 (PWR, 340 MW) and 2 (PWR, 500 MW) are to be decommissioned, the other three units will continue operating because their power capacities are large. The capacities of Ohi Units 1 and 2, however, are much larger.
The papers predicting their decommissioning despite that, explain that in Japan only Ohi Units 1 and 2 have adopted an ice-condenser mechanism for preventing high pressure in the containment vessel, using ice to cool and condense steam into water, and this is becoming a hindrance to their passing the safety inspection. Because of this mechanism, they explain, the required withstandable pressures could be lower, but they do not meet the new regulatory requirements.
In any event, though, KEPCO’s real intent is probably for decommissioning. Even if they decommission Ohi Units 1 and 2 with their large capacities, no supply problems would be expected since demand is decreasing, as the above-mentioned Nikkei article explains. While their revenue from electricity generation would increase if they operated these units, the enormous amount of money they would have to spend to have them meet the new regulatory requirements would make them extremely unprofitable.
KEPCO is attempting to move toward decommissioning the Ohi units with a variety of justifications being offered.
Toshiba announced on October 3 that it would buy back the 10 percent of Westinghouse stock owned by Kazatomprom, Kazakhstan’s state-run nuclear power company. The purchase price is said to be about US$522 million. Kazatomprom possessed a put option, giving it the right to request Toshiba to buy back its stake in Westinghouse starting from October 1. On October 2, it notified Toshiba that it was exercising that option.
The stock buyback is scheduled for January 1. After this buyback, Toshiba will have full ownership of Westinghouse, but under bankruptcy law, Westinghouse is no longer considered a consolidated subsidiary of Toshiba. This does not change Toshiba’s earnings outlook, because the buyback had already been assumed and its impact on the consolidated results for the fiscal year ending March 2018 had been taken into account.
Toshiba’s future challenge will be to find a buyer for all of the stock, but there are no prospects.
Toshiba Corp.’s Energy Systems & Solutions Co. and its Nuclear Energy Systems & Services Division split off, forming a new company, Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corp., on October 1, 2017. On October 25, the new company signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Ukraine’s state run Energoatom, which operates 15 commercial reactors in the Ukraine, aiming to modernize that country’s turbine system equipment.
Modernizing the equipment will increase the power capacity while improving safety and efficiency. It is also considering expanding this cooperation to include long-term provision of services for the installed equipment and introduction of the latest technical and financial solutions.
To systemize the cooperation based on the MOU, the companies have agreed to set up a steering committee with representatives from both companies serving as co-chairs. They are trying to coordinate on all issues involved in this cooperation, including entering into equipment supply and other commercial contracts as appropriate.
On 6 November, a public meeting to exchange opinions on the government’s Geoscientific Characteristics Map (showing areas ‘suitable’ for disposal of high-level nuclear waste-see NIT No. 180) was held in Saitama Prefecture (bordering Tokyo). It was organised by the Nuclear Waste Management Organisation of Japan (NUMO). A CNIC staff member also attended. The exchange of opinions was held in the second half of the event with 24 members of the public participating (including 12 university students) and about 50 observers. During the discussion, two university students (aged 20 and 21) mentioned that they had received 10,000 yen for attending the meeting. The older student said that he was from Kanagawa Prefecture and would not have attended such an event on a weekday if he had not been paid. The NUMO representative, who was in the same discussion group as the students, said that if this was true, it was a serious issue. Following the public meeting, on 14 November, investigations by Kyodo News revealed the facts.
The logistics and management of the public meeting had been outsourced to an advertising company called “Chiikiryoku Kasseika Kenkyuushitsu (Revitalizing Community Strength Research Center Ltd.)” and PR activities directed at students had been further outsourced to a company called “Oceanize Ltd.” Oceanize promised to pay students 10,000 yen and recruited 12 students to attend the Saitama meeting. In Tokyo, Aichi, Osaka and Hyogo Prefectures 27 students were recruited through university clubs by offering a payment of about 5,000 yen per student. It seems they also did the same in Tochigi, Gunma, Shizuoka, Wakayama and Nara Prefectures.
NUMO held a press conference on the evening of 14 November, where they apologized, explaining that the contracted companies were supposed to recruit students, but not by paying them. That decision was made independently by the executive in charge at Oceanize and was due to a mistake in internal management at the outsourced company.
On 17 November, it was further revealed that multiple students who had attended seminars last summer also received cash payments of a few thousand yen. It seems that mobilizing university students by paying them had become normal practice. Recognizing this, the Minister for Economic Trade and Industry, Mr. Seko, said at a press conference on 17 November that he has given instructions that the facts be investigated.
NUMO’s self-stated basic policy of “We aim to become the [sic] socially trustworthy organization” has taken a serious blow. This revelation of non-transparent management is likely to cause a severe setback to the selection of a nuclear waste disposal site.