News Watch

TEPCO and Others Financially Aiding Japan Atomic Power Co.

Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) and Tohoku Electric Power Co. have decided to provide new aid on top of that which they have provided in the past to the Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC). JAPC aims to restart the Tokai No. 2 Power Station, with a view to aiming for 60 years of operation, despite the lack of any financial basis for doing so. Three other electric power companies, Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), Hokuriku Electric Power Co. and Chubu Electric Power Co., are also saying they will provide additional aid.

TEPCO decided on October 28 and Tohoku Electric Power on October 31 at their respective board of directors’ meetings to provide the aid. Neither, however, has made clear the total amount of aid that they deem necessary (mass media reports say the five companies will bear a total of about 350 billion yen).

There are also differences in the methods TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power will use to provide the aid. TEPCO is paying in advance for the electric power it will purchase after the Tokai No. 2 Power Station is restarted, while Tohoku Electric Power has announced it will provide a loan guarantee for funds borrowed to cover the construction costs needed by JAPC in fiscal year 2019. It is difficult to imagine that the loan guarantee will be limited to that company, and we wonder what will really happen.

If the Tokai No. 2 Power Station is restarted, it will stabilize JAPC’s operations, benefiting both TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power. TEPCO will receive the electric power supply it paid for in advance, meanwhile Tohoku Electric Power explains that it doesn’t consider itself to be providing aid, because it will not be taking over JAPC’s debts. Regardless of whether the restart can go forward, though, the fact is even if it does, whether it can produce sufficient electricity, and even then, whether JAPC’s operations will, in fact, be stabilized all remain uncertain.

Even assuming the restart happens, if much time is taken doing so, the allowable operating period will be shortened by that much. It is said the reactor needs to operate for at least 15 years for the construction costs of safety measures to be recovered. Even if the restart is achieved in January 2023 as JAPC assumes, that would leave no more than 16 years before it reaches 60 years of operation. It can be said with certainty that the costs will not be recovered. There is no precedent anywhere in the world of a nuclear reactor operating for 60 years, so not only are there possible delays, but the operating period might be curtailed and the reactor shut down even before the authorized period is up.

Fukushima Prefecture to File Suit to Evict Fukushima Nuclear Accident Victims from Housing

The Fukushima Prefectural Assembly passed a bill on October 3 with a majority vote for the prefecture to file a suit seeking the eviction of five households that had evacuated from outside the areas under evacuation orders as a result of the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (autonomous evacuees). These families continue to reside in national public officers’ housing in Tokyo, but have not signed contracts after the free housing provision period expired.

The prefecture cut off provision of free housing to autonomous evacuees at the end of March 2017, but provided the supportive measure of concluding contracts at the same cost as for public officers for a period of two years for those households that had evacuated to national public officers’ housing outside the prefecture and who wished to remain there. The five households had evacuated from Iwaki and similar municipalities. The prefecture filed the suit seeking their eviction and back payment of rent on their housing for the period starting from April 2017, because they had failed to agree to the details of the contract and had continued residing there without paying rent or signing contracts.

The Nuclear Accident Victims Group Liaison Council (Hidanren) called the decision unacceptable, saying, “Whatever happened to their humanitarian viewpoint of ‘Standing close to every last one of the evacuees’?”

Why are they Fiddling with the Timing of Regular Inspections of Sendai Units 1 and 2?

Kyushu Electric Power notified Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on October 3 that it had revised its operating plans for Sendai Units 1 and 2 to hold the regular inspection of Unit 1 from March 16 and that of Unit 2 from May 20, 2020. These dates both happen to be one day before the deadline for constructing facilities for responding to specific severe accidents at each of the respective reactors.

The term “facilities for responding to specific severe accidents” refers to equipment for controlling the release of radioactive substances in the case of a major accident, or the threat of one, resulting in serious damage to reactor cores and so on, due to terrorist acts such as aircraft strikes on buildings. They consist of equipment for reducing the pressure inside the reactor pressure vessel and for spraying water into the reactor containment vessel, along with other items such as vents with second filters, power supply facilities, and emergency and communications equipment for controlling all of these.

The NRA decided on April 24 to order a halt to operations if the deadline for completing these facilities was exceeded. In response, to avoid the disgrace of being ordered to halt its operations, Kyushu Electric Power chose to move its regular inspections forward (by nearly a year in the case of Unit 2). During that time, they aim to complete the needed facilities.

Operations to Remove Monju’s Fuel Begin

Fuel removal operations at the Monju fast breeder reactor, undergoing decommissioning, got underway on September 17 with transference of fuel assemblies from the reactor core to external fuel storage tanks. The removal of 100 assemblies, less than the originally scheduled 110 assemblies, was completed by October 11. At the time of its decommissioning, the Monju reactor had 370 fuel assemblies in its reactor core and another 160 assemblies in external fuel storage tanks (originally supposed to be temporary storage facilities). The object of these operations will be to transfer all of these to aqueous fuel storage facilities (a fuel pool). First, from August 31, 2018 to January 2019, 86 fuel assemblies (originally scheduled as 100) were transferred from the external fuel storage tanks to the fuel pool. With the space created in the external storage tanks, the fuel could be removed from the reactor core and transferred to the spent fuel pool for a while. All of the fuel assemblies are planned to be transferred by December 2022. Decommissioning measures to be implemented subsequently will be delivery of unused fuel to businesses in Japan or abroad who are authorized to handle it, and transference of spent fuel to businesses in Japan or abroad who are authorized to handle such material, so that it can be reprocessed in Japan or in countries with which Japan has entered into agreements for cooperation on the peaceful use of nuclear power. Nothing concrete has been planned, however.

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