News Watch

Sep/Oct 2019

4th Reshuffled Abe Cabinet Inaugurated

The fourth reshuffled cabinet of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s administration was inaugurated on September 11. Koizumi Shinjiro was appointed Environment Minister and Minister of State for Nuclear Emergency Preparedness. He is the second son of former Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro, who has made prominent calls for zero nukes. In response to a reporter’s question about nuclear power at a press conference on September 11, exactly eight and a half years after the Great East Japan earthquake, Minister Koizumi said, “I want to continue considering what we can do to get rid of [nuclear power], not what we can do to save it,” but was evasive on specific questions about restarts and other details.

Responding to reporters’ questions at a press conference at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) on the 12th, METI Minister Sugawara Isshu said, “Zero nukes is not realistic either at the present time or when thinking of the future.” In the past, Sugawara has advocated freeing Japan from dependency on nuclear power, but he has asserted that his views are not at variance with the policies of the government and METI for “reducing dependency on nuclear power as much as possible.”

ASTRID Plans Withdrawn, No Effect on METI’s Budget

As France’s plans for the ASTRID reactor gradually unraveled toward virtual abandonment, one would have thought that METI, who was using the “joint Japanese-French development” of ASTRID as a selling point, would have abolished or reduced its budget for fast reactor technology development back in fiscal year 2020. Yet at the end of August, METI requested a budget of about 4.1 billion yen, roughly the same as for fiscal 2019.

After the decision was made to decommission the Monju reactor, ASTRID was touted as an important foothold in aiming for practical application of fast reactors. Even if the loss of this publicity point was a heavy blow, ultimately that turned out anyway to have been nothing but a pretense for budget acquisition. Finding another name under which to continue the charade seems to work fine, so in its fiscal 2020 budget request, METI switched its wording from “Commissions for technology development regarding international cooperation on fast reactors” to the indeterminate “Commissions for technology development for a common base pertaining to fast reactors.”

To begin with, even this ”Japanese-French joint development” appears in reality to provide no benefits whatsoever for the joint development partner country, France. A look at the published results for fiscal 2017 shows 5.14 billion yen of the 5.2 billion yen budget was implemented, all of which went to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) as a commission. Of that amount, nearly half, 2.59 billion yen, was recommissioned to Mitsubishi FBR Systems, Inc. (MFBR). This mechanism also served to distribute funds of 1.09 billion yen to the Japan Atomic Power Company, 200 million yen to the Central Research Institute of Electric Power Industry and other amounts to universities and other recipients (leaving about 1.4 billion yen for JAEA).

The letters “ASTRID” come up in the operational details only in a further recommissioning from MFBR. Even then, it is only for “analysis and basic data acquisition,” a far cry from funding for the purpose of construction.

Note that regarding the Monju reactor, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) has requested a budget of 17.9 billion yen, the same as for fiscal 2019. That breaks down into 2.5 billion yen for reactor decommissioning and 15.4 billion yen for safety measures and operation & maintenance.

TEPCO, Chubu Electric, Hitachi and Toshiba Reach Agreement on Joint Enterprise

The four companies of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO), Chubu Electric Power Company, Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Corp. announced on August 28 that they had reached a basic agreement to investigate formation of a joint enterprise in the boiling water reactor (BWR) business. In a press release, they said, “The four companies include some of the world’s top manufacturers with manufacturing and engineering capabilities relating to the BWR business, and electric power companies with many years of knowledge and experience in operating and maintaining nuclear power plants. Moving forward, by transcending the boundaries of their individual industries, and bringing together their technologies and knowledge in order to maximize synergies and complementary effects, the companies will discuss potential collaboration with the aim of improving safety and economic viability and building a sustainable business framework for maintaining and developing human resources, technologies and supply chains.” Nevertheless, each of the four companies has its own different views, and they diverge in terms of amenability to forming joint enterprises.

In particular, not just the manufacturers, but even Chubu Electric are hesitant to get involved in a joint enterprise for construction of reactors at the Higashidori nuclear power plant (NPP) in Aomori Prefecture that TEPCO wants.

Bogus Decommissioning Plan for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Units 1 to 5

TEPCO President Kobayakawa Tomoaki met with Mayor Sakurai Masahiro of Kashiwazaki City, Niigata Prefecture on August 26 to convey his point of view on announcing decommissioning plans for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Units 1 to 5, about which the mayor had requested a response more than two years prior. He asserted that at the present time, Units 1 to 5 were a needed source of electricity, and said he would try to gather all the information necessary to make a decision within five years of restarting Units 6 and 7, and from that point onward they would “take steps that can be thought of as leading to the decommissioning of at least one reactor.”

This is not so much a plan to decommission the reactors, as a threat to the mayor to withhold cooperation, saying that if they can’t proceed with the Units 6 and 7 restarts, which public opinion and the prefecture oppose, they cannot consider decommissioning Units 1 to 5.

2019 Version of Technical Strategic Plan for Fukushima Daiichi Decommissioning

On September 9, the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corporation announced its Technical Strategic Plan for 2019 for decommissioning the Fukushima Daiichi NPP. The plan clearly states that the first operations to remove debris from the Unit 2 reactor will begin in 2021, and says the debris will be enclosed in metal containers in a dried state and stored at the NPP site.

The Japanese government and TEPCO say that, based on this plan, they will revise the “medium-term roadmap toward decommissioning the reactors.”

Amount of Damages Determined for TEPCO’s Termination of Uranium Supply Agreement

In January 2017, following the Fukushima nuclear accident, TEPCO terminated a uranium supply agreement it had had with Cameco Corporation since 2009. Seeking damages, Cameco requested arbitration through the International Chamber of Commerce in May 2017. The arbitrators’ decision was announced on July 13, awarding Cameco 40.30 million dollars, whereas Cameco had requested 73.10 million dollars. TEPCO also incurs the 1.7 million dollar cost of the arbitration proceedings.

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