News Watch

Court Overturns Reactor Installation Permit for Ohi Units No. 3 and 4

On December 4, 2020, the Osaka District Court overturned the approval the governmental Nuclear Regulation Authority had granted to Kansai Electric Power Company concerning the safety measures of the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant No. 3 and No. 4 reactors. The court decision effectively withdrew the governmental reactor installation permit that had been granted for the two units. However, to prevent the decision from taking effect, the government filed an appeal with the Osaka High Court on the 17th, stating that a decision of a higher court should be sought, making it possible for the power company to continue to operate the reactors. The Ohi No. 4 reactor, which was shut down due to a regular checkup, was restarted on January 15 and commenced to generate and transmit power commercially on the 17th. Meanwhile, on January 14, the plaintiffs’ group filed with the Osaka High Court for the suspension of the execution of the reactor installation permit, to put the District Court decision into effect and to stop the Ohi reactor.

The text of the Osaka District Court’s ruling closely examined the assertions of the plaintiff and defendant regarding each of the eight controversial issues. The court gave an especially scrupulous examination of the formulation of the reference seismic motion, which is the most important factor in evaluating the safety of nuclear power plants, with respect to “seismic motion formulated with a hypocenter specified for the site” and “seismic motion formulated without a hypocenter specified.” The court ruled that the government had only examined the “uncertainties” that the empirical formulation equation involves, and had neglected to examine the possible variances from the formulation, whose examination is required by the Guide for the Evaluation of Standard Seismic Motion.

“When a seismic scale is calculated by means of an empirical formula that relates the scale with the length or area of the source model or with the size of displacement resulting from a single seismic activity of the model, the regulator must confirm that the applicable range of the empirical formula has been comprehensively examined,” states the Guide, established by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA). “The empirical formula only provides average seismic scales and the variances that the formula may entail must be considered.” The NRA did not consider such variances, contradicting the content it had stipulated in the Guide. In court, the chief judge repeatedly encouraged the government, the defendant, to provide an explanation in order to leave no margin for misapprehension.

The formula of Irikura and Miyake, which was used to determine the standard seismic motion in this case, is purely empirical and merely provides an average relationship between two physical quantities. Actual observations include variances of reasonable quantities. For the examination of the variances, the Guide requires not only that the applicable range of the empirical formula should be comprehensively examined (the first sentence of the stipulation). The second sentence, which was added to the Guide after the 11 March 2011 earthquake, has the pragmatic meaning that seismic motion, or seismic moment, must be established in consideration of the different physical quantities that may be significantly greater than the average values calculated by the empirical formula.

The ruling states that there was no evidence that the NRA examined the variances the empirical formula involves and that while the second sentence of the stipulation demands an examination of whether a given amount of quantity should be added to the average value obtained by the empirical formula in consideration of the possible variances the formula entails, the NRA failed to assert or prove that it had performed such examination.

“Literature Review” Begun as an Initial Step to the Selection of Sites for Geological Disposal of High-level Radioactive Wastes

On December 18, 2020, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan (NUMO), a corporation under the jurisdiction of the Designated Radioactive Waste Final Disposal Act, began the “literature review” as an initial step to the selection of sites for geological disposal of high-level radioactive wastes (HLW) in the town of Suttsu and the village of Kamoenai, both located in Hokkaido, the northernmost main island of Japan. It is not that the organization has set up something specific; it disclosed a review plan and declared that it had begun the review. The organization says that it will open a “communication station” in both the municipalities, but it is unknown when such stations will be built.

In Suttsu, an ordinance to ban nuclear wastes from entering the town was proposed to the assembly. On December 17, the assembly held a vote, which turned out to be a tie. The chairperson’s tie-breaking vote was against the proposal, turning it down. Prior to this vote, the assembly of Shimamaki Town, which neighbors Suttsu, adopted a similar ordinance by a majority on December 15. There is a civil movement toward the adoption of a similar ordinance in more municipalities in the vicinity. On the same day as Shimamaki’s adoption, the assembly of Furubira Town adopted a position document that declared that nuclear wastes should not be brought into Hokkaido.

In Iwate Prefecture, located in the northern part of Honshu main island, the town of Iwaizumi adopted a similar ordinance on December 8, and the villages of Fudai and Noda also adopted one on the 11th. In Iwate, an ordinance against nuclear wastes has been established in five municipalities to date.

Shared Use Proposed for the Intermediate Spent Fuel Storage Facilities

On December 17, 2020, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) submitted to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry a proposal for shared use of the intermediate storage facilities for spent nuclear fuel in Mutsu City, Aomori Prefecture. The FEPC explained the proposal to the Aomori prefectural government and Mutsu city government on the following day. The proposal aims to enable the FEPC-member nuclear plant operators to share the intermediate storage facilities, which Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) and the Japan Atomic Power Company are jointly building in Mutsu. Aomori Prefecture and Mutsu City are offended by the proposal. Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO), an FEPC member that runs many nuclear power plants in Fukui Prefecture, had promised the prefecture that it would ensure a prospective location to which spent fuel in Fukui would be relocated from the prefecture for intermediate storage before the end of the year. Because of the strong opposition from Mutsu, KEPCO could not tell Fukui that spent fuel in the prefecture would be carried out to the Mutsu facilities. On December 25, the manager of KEPCO’s Nuclear Power Division expressed his apologies to the vice-governor of Fukui Prefecture. The Governor of Fukui Prefecture has expressed regret, stating that as matters stood, it would be impossible to start discussion concerning the restart of over 40-year-old nuclear reactors the prefecture hosts.

FEPC Modifies its MOX-fuel Utilization Plan

On December 17, 2020, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan (FEPC) reported to the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) regarding the modification of its schedule of operating nuclear power plants with mixed oxide fuel, or MOX fuel. The federation plans to run at least 12 reactors with MOX fuel in the fiscal year 2030 at the latest. This is apparently a downward change, but the FEPC states that 16 to 18 reactors should run with MOX fuel thereafter, as originally planned. The federation says that the purpose of the change is to specify an intermediate target.

Rokkasho MOX Plant Officially Passes the New Regulation Standards

On December 9, 2020, the Nuclear Regulation Authority granted an operational change permit to the Rokkasho MOX plant, having judged that the plant is compliant with the new regulation standards. On December 16, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), which is building the plant, issued a release that the plant would be completed in the first half of fiscal year 2024, a two-year postponement from the previous plan.

Start of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2 Debris Removal Postponed

On December 24, 2021, TEPCO and METI announced that the start of work for removing debris from Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2, previously scheduled for 2021, would be postponed. The announcement states that the development, underway in the United Kingdom, of the robot arms for the removal work, is being delayed because of the spread of the COVID-19 infection.

Kawasaki Heavy Industries to Sell Out Its Nuclear Operations

On December 24, 2020, Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) signed a memorandum with Tokyo-based ATOX, to sell its nuclear power-related business operations as of April 1, 2021. The sum of the sellout has not been disclosed. KHI has been engaged in the production of nuclear power plant facilities, reactor decommissioning, and the nuclear waste disposal businesses since 1969.


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