Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant Completion Delayed by a Year
Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited notified the Nuclear Regulation Agency (NRA) of Japan on August 21 that its scheduled date for completion of work on the Rokkasho reprocessing plant would be postponed by a year from fiscal 2021 to the first half of fiscal 2022, and reported this likewise to the Aomori Prefectural Government. It is the 25th time the construction schedule has been revised.
The NRA had given the go-ahead on July 29 for completion of the work, finding it in compliance with the new regulatory standards. Several hurdles still remain, however, such as passing construction plan inspections, constructing safety countermeasures, undergoing official inspections before commercial operation and receiving confirmation from the NRA. In fact, even completion in fiscal 2022 seems generally unrealistic. A further delay is inevitable. Note that even after construction is completed, a safety agreement will need to be concluded with the related municipalities before operations can begin.
High-level Waste Storage Center also Complies with New Regulatory Standards
The NRA gave its approval to continued operation of the high-level radioactive waste (HLW) storage center at the Rokkasho plant on August 26, deeming it in compliance with the new regulatory standards. This center holds HLW that has been returned to Japan after reprocessing abroad, which has been entrusted to the UK and France. The storage terms range from 30 to 50 years. It has been promised, with confirmation between successive Aomori prefectural governments and the national government, that the HLW would be taken elsewhere during that time. Twenty-five years have passed since storage of HLW shipped back from France began.
Wishing to enact a law to keep the HLW from being simply abandoned in Aomori, citizens held a general meeting on August 22 to organize a “Citizens’ Association to Seek Enactment of a ‘Bylaw Prohibiting Aomori Prefecture from Becoming a Final HLW Disposal Site.’” Many organizations in that prefecture that are opposed to nuclear power and nuclear fuel fabrication participated, and five persons from trade unions, cooperatives and citizens’ groups were elected to serve as representatives.
A drive to gather citizens’ signatures is being considered to put pressure on the prefectural assembly to enact the bill they are presenting for the bylaw.
Recognition of Hibakusha in ‘Black Rain’ Lawsuit
Hiroshima District Court ruled on July 29 that in rejecting the petition of 84 hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) who had been exposed to black rain to be granted A-bomb survivors’ handbooks (conferring eligibility for relief), the prefecture and city of Hiroshima had violated the law, recognizing all of the plaintiffs as hibakusha.
These are the hibakusha who had been exposed to the black rain that fell to the northwest of the blast center in Hiroshima where the atomic bomb was dropped, and inhaled dust containing radioactive substances.
The area over which the rain fell is divided into three main categories: heavy rain region, light rain region and a ‘possible’ rain region, where the plaintiffs were exposed. Regarding the Atomic Bomb Survivors’ Assistance Act (Act Concerning Protection of Atomic Bomb Survivors), the national government is motivated to minimize the number of aid recipients, and thus applies the Act only to those exposed in the heavy rain region. Ten years ago, Hiroshima City enlisted the cooperation of specialists to compile a survey that found the “rainfall region” to be about six times as large as the area the national government had designated, requesting that the boundary be reconsidered. The national government refused.
Originally, the city and prefecture of Hiroshima had no choice but to conform to national policy, and they were known to reject petitions for granting A-bomb survivors’ handbooks. At a press conference following the ruling, Hiroshima’s mayor said, “It makes me feel terrible to consider how the plaintiffs must feel; really, what can a person say?” However, on August 12, the final day before the deadline for the appeal, under coercion from the national government, the city and prefecture of Hiroshima filed an appeal. The Minister of Health Labour and Welfare commented, “We will give thought to reconsidering expansion of the area covered by the assistance.” Thus they are appealing while at the same time assessing the situation.
Costs of Nuclear Safety Countermeasures Reach 5.2 Trillion Yen
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported on August 9 that the costs of safety countermeasures taken after the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima nuclear power plant will come to a total of at least 5.2 trillion yen (roughly 50 billion US dollars) among Japan’s 11 electric power companies. The Asahi has been investigating this issue since 2013, for which year the costs were found to be just under a trillion yen. These costs have therefore risen by a factor of more than five since.
This represents outlays of 140 to 230 billion yen for each of the nine reactors at five plants operating in Japan.
The results of the investigation in the article referred only to nuclear power plants. The safety countermeasures at the Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant, reported when the completion was delayed, come additionally to about 2.9 trillion yen (roughly 27 billion US dollars).
Hitachi Withdraws from UK Nuke Plan
Hitachi, Ltd. released an announcement on September 16 titled, “Regarding Our Withdrawal from UK Nuclear Power Plant Construction Project Management.” This signaled its formal withdrawal from the Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant construction project in Wales, which had been suspended since January 2019. A news release on the same date said, “Twenty months have passed since the project was suspended, and considering that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is making the circumstances even more difficult for investment, we have made the decision to withdraw from the project.”
Hitachi stated that, “Impairment and other losses totaling 294 billion yen have been declared in the consolidated statement for the fiscal year ended March 2019 as a result of the project’s suspension, and thus Hitachi’s withdrawal from the project’s management at this time will have a negligible impact on current business results.”
The costs entailed by the Wylfa Newydd nuclear plant plans were exceeding initial estimates, swelling to over 3 trillion yen (about 28.5 billion US dollars). The UK government said it would provide about 2 trillion yen in funding, but Hitachi was requesting more support from the UK government. The plant cannot be built without government support, and it has become clear once again that even with governmental support, nuclear power is a difficult business.