News Watch

Construction Started on Facilities for Releasing ALPS Treated Water

On September 4, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) began constructing facilities for oceanic release of the contaminated water from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident that is being held in tanks onsite (ALPS treated water). Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) approved the construction on July 2, and on August 2, TEPCO’s president Kobayakawa Tomoaki met with Gov. Uchibori Masao of Fukushima Prefecture, Mayor Yoshida Jun of Okuma Town and Mayor Izawa Shiro of Futaba Town at the Fukushima Prefectural Office, to obtain their prior approval for installing the release facilities. After that, preparatory work, which had begun in May, entered full-fledged construction.

Since this breaks the written promise of Japan’s government and TEPCO in 2015 to the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations (abbreviated as FS Gyoren) to “make no disposition without the understanding of the parties concerned,” not only FS Gyoren but also the National Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations (Zengyoren) are strongly opposed to the construction. In addition, four agricultural, fisheries and consumers’ cooperative associations have teamed up to issue a joint statement of protest. Not only from within and without Fukushima in Japan, but also from overseas, hundreds of thousands of signatures have been gathered and thousands of public comments and citizens’ demands have been made in opposition to this plan, but these are all being ignored and the construction has been railroaded through.

In response to the prior approval from Fukushima Prefecture and the towns of Okuma and Futaba for constructing the facilities—the de facto promotion of oceanic release without citizens’ understanding and agreement—a gathering titled “Kore Ijo Umi wo Yogosu-na! Shimin Kaigi (Citizens’ Conference to Condemn Further Pollution of the Ocean)” was held as a standing protest on August 3 in front of the Fukushima Prefectural Office, during which the gathering handed a statement to Fukushima prefectural representatives requesting the prior approval be withdrawn and repeating their request for the prefecture to oppose oceanic release.

Prosecution Inquest Panel Decides to Request Indictment over Kanden Kickback Scandal

A group of former Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kanden) executives were revealed to have received money and gifts worth about 370 million yen from the former deputy mayor of Takahama Town in Fukui Prefecture and affiliated businesses (see NIT No. 193). Osaka District Court nonetheless dropped the cases against them (see NIT No. 205) regarding the kickbacks as well as the under-the-table compensation to retired executives to cover docked executive salaries and additional taxes levied on them by the National Tax Agency. Accordingly, a complaint was filed with the District Public Prosecutor’s Office, which determined on July 7 that former President Iwane Shigeki and former chairmen Mori Shosuke and Yagi Makoto should face prosecution for having received unauthorized compensation and that dropping the case against them for making fraudulent orders and receiving cash and gifts had been improper.

The decision’s concluding remarks noted, “This prosecution inquest panel calls for and anticipates further investigations, such as compulsory criminal searches, further interviews of relevant parties and our own digital forensics…to be conducted to reveal the facts.” Not only did they find the decision to drop the case improper, they categorically stated that the investigations conducted had been insufficient.

On September 6, the citizens’ group “Kanden no Genpatsu Manei Fusei Kanryu wo Kokuhatsusuru Kai (Association to litigate against Kanden’s nuclear kickbacks),” who filed the complaint, requested the Osaka District Public Prosecutor’s Office to investigate and prosecute the case as soon as possible, submitting a bill of indictment over newly revealed information that high-priced orders had been placed for sediment disposal and land leases involving Kanden’s nuclear power plants (NPPs).

The suit regarding this case was filed in Osaka District Court on June 16, 2020, requesting compensation for damages of 1.936 billion yen (about $13.5 million) from five former Kanden executives. Deeming that request insufficient, shareholders with an interest filed a shareholders’ representative action in Osaka District Court on June 23, seeking 9.2 billion yen (about $64.3 million) in compensation from 22 current and former Kanden executives. Furthermore, on March 23 of this year, a group including US corporations considered to be shareholders filed a lawsuit in Osaka District Court for damages incurred because the scandal had not been mentioned in Kanden’s securities reports and other documents.

Prime Minister Indicates New NPP Construction under Consideration

At the 2nd GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council meeting, held on August 24, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio took a step back from conventional approaches, saying, “In addition to securing the operation of the ten nuclear power plants that have been restarted, the government will take the lead in implementing all possible measures to restart the nuclear power plants for which installation of safety facilities has been approved.” In concrete terms, though, his words indicated nothing more than “maximizing the use of existing nuclear power plants by mobilizing the full power of those involved in restarting the plants, extending their operating periods based on the premise of ensuring safety, and developing and building a subsequent generation of innovative reactors that incorporate new safety mechanisms” and so on. Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Nishimura Yasutoshi (but in fact the economic bureaucracy overall), who is the minister in charge of promoting GX implementation, presented this list of actions to the Council as items for discussion toward reaching a political decision, saying, “Time is of the essence in holding discussions based on the opinions of experts and the ruling party, such that concrete conclusions can be reached by the end of the year.”

But how realistic is this? The Denki Shimbun, published by the Japan Electric Association, expressed the following views in an article in its August 25 and 26 issues. Of the seven reactors expected to be restarted next summer, the following winter or later, “The only ones that look like they can be incorporated into the power supply are Takahama Units 1 and 2, for which the Facilities for Handling Specific Severe Accidents have been completed. Onagawa Unit 2 is expected to start generating electricity in February 2024, but aside from those, further obstacles remain to be dealt with before the others can be restarted.” Due to the history of separating promotion from regulation in the field of nuclear energy, “Having METI propose amendments to the Reactor Regulation Act [to extend operating periods] would in itself be difficult” and “there are high hurdles to any scenario in which the NRA would consider amending the law.”

The main issues regarding next-generation innovative reactors are “how to find the leadership and the funding.” The article states, “Experts have pointed out that they ‘hear no concrete ideas from the electric power companies.’” The professional journal Energy Forum posted an article online on August 25 saying, “Which companies are to make what types of reactors? Where are they to build them, with what plans for funding, and when? These decision by themselves are very hard. All of the electric power companies are dealing with unprofitable operations as they try to tackle the problems of electric power liberalization and delays in reactor restarts. They do not have the capacity left to build new nuclear power plants, which would require enormous new outlays.”

A Delay, a Further Delay, and Yet Another Couple More Delays

Regarding measures to decommission the Fugen prototype advanced thermal reactor, the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) announced on August 8 it was revising the projected time for completing decommissioning measures from FY2033 to FY2040, saying, “The dismantling method we were previously planning to use will be revised to a safer method that greatly reduces the risk of water leakage from the dismantling pool.”

Next, TEPCO announced on August 25 that it was further delaying the start of operations to remove the fuel that had melted down (fuel debris) in Fukushima Daiichi Unit 2, which was supposed to begin at the end of this year, to the latter half of FY2023. The company obstinately insists that the timeline for completing decommissioning some 30 to 40 years after the accident, unattainable to start with, would not be revised.

Not to be outdone, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited, who announced on July 29 that it would defer the start of production operations at its uranium enrichment plant from September 2022 to February 2023, decided on September 7 to make an announcement of the new time for completing its construction within the year, saying that regrettably they would be unable to meet the planned completion date for the reprocessing facilities, which had been scheduled for the latter half of FY2022, and were being forced to revise the completion date. This is their 27th such delay.

Then lastly, the Electric Power Development Company (J Power) decided on September 9 to postpone the restart of construction of the Oma NPP by two years, moving it from the first half of FY2022 to the first half of FY2024. This is their 5th such delay. Commencement of operation has also been put forward two years, and is now planned for 2030.

Japan Atomic Energy Agency to Participate in UK’s HTGR Demonstration Program

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) announced on September 5 that a team has been selected in which the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) and JAEA will be participating as companies conducting preliminary research for the UK’s program to develop a new type of reactor. JAEA will cooperate with NNL, promoting the advancement of Japan’s high-temperature gas reactor (HTGR) technology and demonstrating it in the UK, with the aim of strengthening Japan’s international competitiveness.

According to the announcement, the UK government is focusing on HTGRs as the most promising candidate for using nuclear power to achieve decarbonization. It is promoting a research, development and demonstration program (below, “AMR-RD&D Program”) for advanced modular reactors (AMR), and says that it has plans for this to lead to an HTGR demonstration unit by the early 2030s at the latest. The UK Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) began soliciting business operators to implement Phase A (work prior to conceptual design) of the AMR-RD&D Program, and JAEA received a request from NNL, with whom they have had a cooperative relationship in the field of HTGR technology, and thus they applied for the AMR-RD&D Program as a member of the NNL team (consisting of three companies: NNL, JAEA and a UK corporation (Jacobs for Lot 1, Urenco for Lot 2)). BEIS announced on September 2 (UK time) that it had selected the NNL team as an implementing business entity to conduct Phase A preliminary research. In the future, depending on progress on each task, the UK government says it will consider continuing support beyond Phase B (conceptual design).

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