News Watch

Order to Halt Preparations for Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP Restart

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) issued a corrective measures order on April 14th to Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), prohibiting the transfer of nuclear fuel to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP, in effect prohibiting preparations for restart. It is said that a year will be needed for modifications to the plant to be confirmed. TEPCO reported to the NRA on January 27th that incursion detection equipment was out of order and it was implementing substitute measures, but it became clear that in actuality no measures were being taken. In the course of investigations, it was also revealed that malfunctions had occurred prior to that on multiple occasions, with nothing being done about them for more than 30 days, during which there was a possibility of illegal incursions occurring that would not have been detected.

On September 20, 2020, prior to these occurrences, one of the plant’s staff used someone else’s ID card to access the main control room. When this fact was discovered the next day, TEPCO reported it to the NRA Secretariat, but the latter neglected to report this to the NRA Commission. NRA Chairman Fuketa Toyoshi failed to receive the report until four months later, on January 19, 2021. Fuketa explains, “It appears this was because it would have generated news.” Despite the failure to report the loss of the ID card and take measures to invalidate it (it was said to have been found on the night of the same day), the ID card’s being kept in a way that allowed someone else to walk off with it easily, and despite multiple warnings being received by security guards at entrances and exits to and from the surrounding protected zones along the way to the control room and doubts arising among them over differences between the registered photo and the bearer’s face, an unauthorized staff member was allowed to enter and exit at his own discretion, going as far as to even register erroneous identifying information (his palm print?) on the ID card (thanks to which, the unauthorized access was discovered the next day when the ID card’s original owner triggered an error message). On March 10, TEPCO filed a report to the NRA analyzing the cause and suggesting ways of preventing recurrences. It explained it in terms such as the security guards conjecturing that the intruder was a regular employee.

Moreover, it was reported on May 9th that on August 21, 2015, a worker from a cooperating company mistook the ID of a colleague’s father for his own and used it to gain access to the same Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP. The security guard who compared the photo to his face had a strange feeling about it, but he was afraid he would cause trouble for other workers if he took time to confirm it in the middle of the morning rush, so he let the man through. The alarm sounded in front of the gate to the NPP buildings, and the mistake was discovered there. TEPCO maintains it reported this to the NRA, but the person overseeing this at the NRA was “unable to confirm the record (of the report),” once again revealing the low level of awareness TEPCO and the NRA have in this regard.

Careless Management of Waste Containers at Fukushima Daiichi NPP

A radiation detector in a drainage channel at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP sounded an alarm on March 2nd. When the upstream watershed was investigated, elevated dosage values were found in rainwater flowing into the drainage channel on the 22nd. On the 24th, TEPCO Holdings announced that dose rates of up to 13 mSv/h had been detected in soil containing a gel-like substance found above ground on the lower part of a container located upstream in a temporary storage area for wastes. The container was confirmed on the 25th to have been corroded, and when its lid was lifted, wastes generated by work after the earthquake disaster, such as rags (cloth and paper), protective sheets and plastic piping are said to have been found. The gel-like substance turned out actually to be the rags.

Proceeding further with its investigation, TEPCO uncovered sloppy management, with the contents of about 4,000 containers not known. They did not announce this, but it came to light on April 5th when TEPCO was fielding questions at a press conference. This news was widely reported, and on the 7th, TEPCO released detailed information on the storage conditions, such as the number of containers, where they were kept and whether the contents could be quickly ascertained. According to a revised version with clerical errors corrected on the 13th, there were 81,458 containers, the contents of which could be quickly ascertained, and 4,011 containers for which would take time or be difficult to begin with to ascertain the contents. For the first year after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in March 2011, no records whatsoever were kept of what was being stored in the containers. From April 2012 to November 2017, records were kept on paper, but the containers were not “tagged,” so it was not possible to tell which contents were in which container. In December 2017 a database was introduced and has been maintained since, it is said, enabling the contents to be ascertained.

It was announced on April 22nd that the contents of 37 containers had been confirmed that were being kept in the temporary storage area where the leak had been discovered. Three were found to be empty and 34 to hold pieces of metal and discarded asbestos.

Idea to Use Canada as Site for Disposal of Japan’s Nuclear Waste

Canada’s public broadcasting company CBC carried a report on May 1 of a plan it had received by e-mail from the parties involved to have Canada host a disposal site for nuclear waste from Japan and other countries. The Mainichi Shimbun prominently reported this in Japan on the 5th, followed by other newspapers. The facilities were to be built in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it is said that former Canadian Prime Minister Chretien, former high officials in the US Department of Energy and promoters within Canada contributed to the plan. Chretien consulted with a major Japanese PR company in late 2019, and negotiated with Hattori Takuya, former director of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum (and former TEPCO Vice President) to whom the firm’s executives had been introduced by former politicians. Hattori thought the plan had little chance of realization, but he indicated his willingness to participate in a meeting held in April 2020 in Canada. That meeting was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

 Reporting on the PR company executives on the 9th, the Hokkaido Shimbun quoted them as follows: “When the plan becomes public, it will cause trouble for those promoting candidate site selection in Japan. We are thinking of continuing our negotiations in private and approaching our government once it reaches a concrete stage at some point in the future.”

According to CBC, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Andrew Furey heard about the idea from Chretien, but rejected it and explained that the chances of having it discussed by the provincial government were “zero.” Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) says, “We are not considering overseas disposal at all.”

Overseas ‘Export’ of Large Metallic Waste Items?

As reactor decommissioning has proceeded, a proposal of sorts to create export approval standards for the purpose of “exporting” large metallic waste items such as steam generators and feed water heaters overseas was brought up at a March 22 meeting of the Nuclear Power Subcommittee of the Electricity and Gas Industry Committee of METI’s Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy. The reasoning goes that these items would be treated as radioactive waste in Japan, but overseas, as recycling businesses have been established that allow these wastes to be labeled as recycled goods, they will be exempt from the general rules pertaining to radioactive waste disposal in Japan. This is thus an attempt to have the approval standards reviewed.

There is a precedent for this in Japan in 2005, when the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) exported 290m3 of surplus mining soil generated at a uranium mine in Tottori Prefecture to the White Mesa Mill in the US as a “mineraloid.” Now there is a scheme on to evade the law by sending a total of about 120 tons of ion-exchange resin, activated charcoal, solidified waste, etc., with uranium adhering to it to the same White Mesa Mill as “uranium ore” or “uranium equivalent.”

JAEA Plans to Drill to 500m Depth at Horonobe Underground Research Center

JAEA released information on April 6th regarding the boring of a tunnel to a depth of 500m at the Horonobe Underground Research Center in Horonobe Town, Hokkaido. It plans to extend an existing tunnel it had previously bored to a depth of 350 meters, progressing further with its excavation to 500 meters.

The Horonobe Underground Research Center was launched in March 2001 as a center for underground research on disposal of high-level radioactive waste under the condition that it would not bring in nuclear materials. Research was to be carried out for 20 years, but in August 2019, JAEA filed for an extension of the research period by nine years, not indicating a final completion deadline. Horonobe Town welcomed this, and after “confirmatory meetings” with JAEA over a short period, the government of Hokkaido approved the extension. At that time, no mention had been made at all of plans for excavating to 500 meters. However, in response to a question from Horonrobe Town during a further confirmatory meeting on August 31, 2020, JAEA explained that it was giving thought to proceeding as deep as 500 meters, so it was at that time that the plan first came to light. It has been revealed, though, that this plan had been under consideration for some time before then, and had already been explained to the Hokkaido government on June 21, 2020.

Residents of the Dohoku District of northern Hokkaido, where Horonobe Town is located, who are opposed to the underground research center trust neither JAEA nor the Horonobe Town government, who have a history of betraying the residents. They complain that the purpose of the plan can only be seen as to achieve a further extension of the already extended deadline.

JGC Holdings Involved in SMR Project Planning

In an April 7th commentary, the Denki Shimbun industrial newspaper noted, “It has been a long-cherished wish of JGC Holdings to participate in building nuclear power plants.” Note that the failed joint venture initiated by Hitachi, Bechtel and JGC with Horizon Nuclear Power of the UK remains fresh in our memory.

 JGC also formed and participated in a consortium with IHI and NuScale under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s NEXIP (Nuclear Energy x Innovation Promotion) Initiative, and managed to obtain funding through METI’s “Innovative Nuclear Technology Development Support Project to Meet Social Demands.” As a future effort, it says it will “Provide support for efforts by Japanese enterprises to team up for a demonstration project overseas in the US, UK or Canada, aiming to start operations in the late 2020s, while keeping in mind safety, economy, the supply chain structure and compliance with regulations.”

JGC Holdings announced on April 6th that it had decided to invest 40 million US dollars in NuScale Power, a US company, via its American subsidiary. This is an important step in advancing its EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) business in small modular nuclear reactors (SMR). Hoping to build up to 12 PWR reactors of 77 MW capacity in Idaho, it aims to start operating the first one by 2029. The EPC will be conducted jointly by JGC Group company JGC Global and major US engineering company Fluor Corp. (NuScale’s parent company).

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