First NPP Equipped with Anti-terrorism Safety Measures Begins Operating
Kyushu Electric Power Co. started up Unit 1 at its Sendai Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) on November 17. This is the first NPP in Japan to have been outfitted with anti-terrorism safety measures, known officially as “facilities for responding to specific severe accidents.” The reactor reached criticality on the morning of the 18th and began generating electric power on the 19th. It had been halted on March 16 when the deadline for installing these facilities passed before their completion. It was initially scheduled for restart on December 26, but construction proceeded swiftly, helping it to be moved ahead by more than a month. Unit 2, which was similarly shut down on May 20 is also having its restart moved ahead to January 26, 2021. Genkai Unit 3 at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s other NPP has been shut down for its periodic inspection, and Unit 4, the one reactor that had been in operation until now, was scheduled to be halted for its periodic inspection in December once the Unit 3 reactor had been restarted.
These anti-terrorism safety facilities have the purpose of minimizing the external release of radioactive substances in the event of large-scale terrorist attacks such as aircraft collisions. Kyushu Electric Power Co. has installed an emergency control room, water injection pumps and other equipment 100 meters or further from the reactor building to allow the reactor to be cooled remotely.
Minister for Administrative Reform Not Favorable toward Reprocessing of Fugen ATR’s Spent Fuel in France
At the autumn session of the Administrative Business Review, a public review held on November 14, Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) revealed that its policy all along regarding spent fuel from the Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA’s) Fugen prototype advanced thermal reactor (in Tsuruga City, Fukui, undergoing decommissioning) had been to have it reprocessed. JAEA contracted with Orano Cycle, a French company in October 2018 to prepare for shipments (at a price of 102 million Euros = 13.3 billion yen). The contract included the manufacturing of six transportation casks and shipment of 731 used fuel assemblies, with shipments expected to commence around 2023 and conclude around the summer of 2026. The spent fuel contains about 1.3 tons of plutonium. In response to a hearing organized by Citizen’s Nuclear Information Center on this subject in 2018, MEXT and the Atomic Energy Commission of Japan (JAEC) explained that the contract was merely preparatory and no decision had been made yet on reprocessing.
At the public review, MEXT and JAEA said that they were still considering how the plutonium separated out during reprocessing would be used. Kono Taro, Japan’s Minister for Administrative Reform and Regulatory Reform, pointed out that if the intended uses could not be explained, no budget could be allocated to it, to which the person in charge replied, “We wish to consult with the Parliamentary Vice Minister.”
French domestic law prohibits the acceptance of waste from abroad. This means that despite it being clear from the start that the shipments were predicated on reprocessing, the intended uses of the plutonium have not been determined even two years since the signing of the contract.
Intermediate Storage Facilities in Mutsu City Pass Inspection for Compliance with New Regulatory Standards
At a regular meeting on November 11, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) decided to award examination documents recognizing compliance of Recyclable-Fuel Storage Company’s (RFS’s) intermediate storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel in Mutsu City, Aomori Prefecture with the new regulatory standards. Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has an 80% stake and Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPC), a 20% stake in RFS. Both companies have been temporarily storing spent fuel generated by their respective NPPs, totaling about 5,000 tons, in metal containers placed in air-cooled “dry storage,” some of it for as long as 50 years. Construction of the facilities began in August 2010 and in January 2014, an application was filed for safety inspections.
Having passed the inspection, RFS aims to begin operations in FY2021. Originally it had been assumed that the used fuel would be carried to a newly constructed plant separate from Japan Nuclear Fuel, Ltd.’s reprocessing plant (in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Pref.). The plans for new facilities, however, never materialized, and the destination of the used fuel has yet to be determined.
New Fuel from Ikata Unit 1 Shipped to US Processing Plant
Shikoku Electric Power Co. has sent a shipment to a US fabrication plant of 42 unused fuel assemblies stored at its Ikata Unit 1 reactor, which is being decommissioned. The shipment departed on October 29 and arrived at Framatome’s Richland fuel fabrication plant in Richland, Washington on November 16, where the uranium in the fuel will be refined and processed, enabling its reutilization.