News Watch

Possibility for NRA to Halt Nukes in Operation

It appears that Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai Unit 1 reactor, which has been restarted, will be halted next March. The Unit 2 reactor might also be halted next May. If the so-called “special safety facilities” are incomplete by these times, the Sendai Units will be in violation of the new regulatory standards.

The term “special safety facilities” is poorly understood. The mass media have been calling them “facilities for countering terrorism.” They are backup facilities in case the central control room at a nuclear power plant (NPP) becomes disabled due to terrorist incidents such as deliberate aircraft collision, and consist of a remote emergency control room from which to control the reactors when the central control room becomes inoperable, and water injection facilities to cool the reactors.

Installation of the needed facilities has been delayed and will not meet the deadline, according to Kyushu Electric Power Co. On April 19, Kyushu Electric Co. sent a request to the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to extend the deadlines. If they cannot get the deadlines extended, they say, there is a risk that not only the Sendai NPP, but several other reactors as well will have to be halted. At its regular meeting on April 24, however, the NRA decided not to authorize an extension. If construction can be expedited to meet the deadline, they can avoid having to halt the reactors, but conducting large-scale earth excavation and other work hastily could affect the reactors in operation. Meeting the deadline would be extremely difficult.

Recruiting Drive for Supporting Development of Next-Generation Reactors Begins

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) began recruiting businesses in April for its Program to Support the Development of Innovative Nuclear Power Technologies. The program, which is to run from fiscal 2019 to fiscal 2027, will have a budget of 650 million yen for fiscal 2019. It envisions 15 projects, with subsidies provided for one half, two-thirds or three-quarters of expenses, depending on the nature of the project.

It provided the following three budget proposal explanations as images of the projects it intends to subsidize.

  • Development of small reactors with superior safety and economy [new technology reactors]

Such a project would develop small reactors featuring safety through the ability to be cooled at times when no electric power is available, such as accidents, through miniaturization of the reactor core and use of natural circulation technology. Restrained construction and operating costs would be realized through simplified piping systems, modular manufacturing, etc.

  • Development of light water reactors that can use long halflife radionuclides as fuel [new technology reactors]

With an aim to use plutonium (Pu) and reduce the volume and degree of harmfulness of high-level radioactive wastes, such a project would develop light water reactors that could utilize fast neutrons, enabling Pu and other long halflife radionuclides to be used as fuel.

  • Predictive failure monitoring using big data and AI [enhancement of basic technology]

Such a project would develop technology capable of analyzing problematic phenomena by storing and automatically analyzing large amounts of instrumentation data at NPPs, monitoring them in real time, and detecting abnormalities early on from the stage of the onset of indications.

If the project is expected to be feasible, they say they will narrow down the list of technologies to be emphasized in 2020 or later and put forward a definite schedule. After the support finishes, METI aims to standardize the new technology reactors within about ten years and enhance the elementary technology within five, leading to application in nuclear reactors.

Genkai Unit 2 to be Decommissioned

Kyushu Electric Power Co. notified the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry on April 9 that it would decommission the Genkai Unit 2 reactor (PWR, 559 MW). It thus becomes the 17th nuclear reactor to be decommissioned in Japan since the nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s (TEPCO’s) Fukushima Daiichi NPP in 2011.

Retrieval of Fuel from Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 Begins

Operations to retrieve the fuel from Fukushima Daiichi Unit 3 (BWR, 784 MW) finally got underway on April 15. Originally, the plan was to begin this work in June 2015. Even after the operations were concretized in fiscal 2018, problems continued to occur with the device for handling the fuel when transferring it to the transport container and the crane used in raising and lowering the transport container, making it necessary to readjust the schedule several times.

Of the 514 spent fuel rod assemblies and 52 unused assemblies in the spent fuel pool, the first retrieved were seven new fuel assemblies, which were transported to an onsite common pool on April 25. TEPCO aims to complete the retrieval of all of the fuel before the end of fiscal 2020.

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