News Watch 96 (July/Aug 2003) Nuke Info Tokyo No. 96
On July 18, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) compiled a draft of the Energy Basic Plan, which indicates the future direction of the Japanese government’s energy policy. METI submitted the plan to the Subcommittee for Energy Basic Plan which is organized under the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy. The Subcommittee approved the plan later. It is likely that the final draft will be crafted after the public comments, and then the Cabinet will decide whether to give the go-ahead to the plan.
The draft plan emphasizes “ensuring a stable supply of energy” as its top priority and the basis of energy policy is to secure Japan’s energy requirement as the world energy demand grows. What an embarrassing policy it is! The second priority is “adaptation to the environment.” And last, “the use of market forces” is included in the basic plan with a condition that it would not be against the top two policies.
Nuclear power is considered as being in conformity with the top two policies, and “should be regarded as a key power source, therefore, it should be promoted.” The draft plan further states that for “the use of market forces,” a system will be prepared so as to place priority on the power supply from nuclear power, and relief measures against investment risks for back-end business will be taken. With regard to the policy on the nuclear fuel cycle, it states that “while its promotion is a national basic policy, it is necessary to steadily approach it with flexibility not rigidly.”
The content of the Basic Plan is almost identical to that of the LDP’s Interim Report on Energy Basic Plan, which was officially decided on July 27. According to a general view of the energy industry circle, the only difference is that in the tone of the LDP’s report has become a bit weaker stating that, “nuclear power will be promoted as the top priority issue as the core of the state energy policy”.
The Asahi Shimbun (June 28) reported that the surveys conducted by the Executive Yuan of the Republic of China had revealed that a radiation level of 0.5mSv/h was detected, exceeding Taiwan’s standard level by the factor of four in the stainless steel scrap imported from Japan in 2002.
The sources of the radiation were: health appliances for home baths, which contained uranium (detected in March and April); metal pieces containing 60Co (588kBq) in June; and cylindrical metals containing 137Cs (180MBq) in August. The Taiwan government sent documents to the Japanese government in July and September and warned them of this problem. METI responded by simply commenting that no evidence found that these scraps were intentionally exported. The exporter is said to be claiming that they inspected both at the time of purchasing and exporting metal scraps, but no radiation was detected then which would be the indication that the scraps was contaminated in Taiwan. However, the same company carried out all four export shipments.
One hundred and forty-four canisters of vitrified high-level radioactive waste, generated from reprocessed spent fuel by COGEMA of France, arrived on July 23 at Mutsu-Ogawara port in Rokkasho-mura, Aomori Prefecture. The canisters were unloaded the next day and transported to the storage facility of Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited. They were loaded on a transport ship, the Pacific Swan, which left Cherbourg, France, on June 4 and arrived in Japan via the Panama Canal.
During their land transport, radioactivity measurements were conducted at spots two to three meters away from the vehicles. The maximum level exceeded 1900nSv/h, 78 times higher than the ordinary level. There is concern that workers who handled the waste, drivers and prefectural and village staff members who will conduct on-the-spot inspections may face the same risk.
On July 2, Takeo Hiranuma, the Minister of Economic, Trade and Industry, gave official approval for the construction of Hokaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari 3 (PWR, 912 MW). The company plans to start its construction in November and aims to commence its commercial operation in December 2009.
It is the first time after four years that an approval is given for building a reactor, and in fact after 16 years for a PWR type.
On July 23, Masashi Sugiyama, the Mayor of Mutsu City in Aomori Prefecture, visited the head office of Tokyo Electric Power Co. and handed a letter of request to TEPCO’s President Tsunehisa Katsumata concerning the sitting of Japan’s first off-site storage facility of spent fuel. As reported in NIT No. 95, TEPCO revealed its plan to construct a facility to store 5,000-6,000 tons of uranium of spent fuel for as long as 50 years.
The mayor announced his intention to invite the facility, stating that citizens’ agreement was obtained. However, there is a move among the citizens to establish a city ordinance on the plebiscite so that pros and cons of the sitting can be decided through the plebiscite. By August 4 approximately seven times more than enough petitions for the enactment of the ordinance were collected and submitted to the city’s election management committee.
On July 4 there was an explosive sound and white smoke rose at the waste treatment building on the site of Fugen, an advanced thermal reactor, in Tsuruga City, Fukui Prefecture. It was caused by abnormal combustion of the waste incinerator. Fortunately it did not become serious, but an observation window heavily cracked and the smoke spewed out of incinerator. Since the sound of the explosion was so loud, local government offices and fire stations were inundated with telephone calls from citizens inquiring such as whether they should evacuate. A panic situation would be unavoidable if a big accident occurred.
Fugen is a prototype Advanced Thermal Reactor (1,650 MW) owned by the Japan Nuclear Cycle Development Institute, which began operation in March 1978 and was decommissioned in March 2003.