Injunction to Halt Mihama Unit 3 Operation Rejected
Osaka District Court handed down a decision on December 20, 2022 rejecting a request for an injunction against operation of the Unit 3 reactor of the Mihama Nuclear Power Station (PWR, 340 MW). Nine citizens of Fukui and nearby prefectures had filed a complaint seeking to halt the operation of this superannuated nuclear power plant (NPP). It was the first in Japan exceeding 40 years in service (with 52 years having elapsed since it began operating) to be restarted. At a hearing held on May 23 last year, the court also requested Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kanden) to submit written documentation to the effect that they would wait for a decision to be issued before restarting the reactor, where operations had been halted, pending the establishment of facilities for responding to specific severe accidents (the so-called “anti-terrorism facilities”). However, Kanden announced on June 10 that it would restart the reactor two months ahead of schedule, and on August 30, they went ahead and restarted it. They explained their action as necessary to meet higher power demand in summer, but that was merely the official excuse, with the real purpose of the earlier restart suspected of being to put pressure on the court by requiring it to shut down an operating NPP rather than an idled one.
The plaintiffs had decided not to bring up the NPP’s superannuation directly, as it would have taken time and they wanted an early decision. What they emphasized most strongly was that an active fault had been determined to exist in extremely close proximity to the Mihama NPP. The criteria for facility approval by Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) require particular consideration to cases in which earthquakes could be centered in extremely close proximity to NPP grounds. Kanden argued that “earthquakes with epicenters in extremely close proximity to NPP grounds” meant within 250 meters of their grounds, and the NRA approved Kanden’s application, not considering it a case of extremely close proximity to the Mihama plant.
The court did not determine how many kilometers away would constitute “extremely close proximity” either, but rejected the injunction on the basis that “it cannot be deemed unreasonable” for the NRA to have determined that the fault was not in close proximity.
To protest the restart of Mihama Unit 3, Ishiji Masaru and his fellow plaintiffs have stood in front of the Mihama NPP’s PR building every Sunday morning. Immediately behind that is the Shiraki-Nyu Fault with Mihama Unit 3 directly in view. One can get the sense that if the Shiraki-Nyu Fault moves, if will affect the Mihama NPP. At a press conference on the decision to reject the injunction, Ishiji implored the judge to try standing there and see for himself.
Moreover, the decision fully upholds the controversial emergency measures and evacuation plans for Mihama Town’s residents, which has them evacuating to Oi Town (with a lower population than Mihama). The decision ended with the declaration that there were no deficiencies in these evacuation plans.
The legal counsel issued a statement criticizing the decision, saying “Although the court took five months to make this decision, it is short on content. It seems that the tragedy of the Fukushima accident has slipped the judge’s mind. We strongly protest this decision that is tantamount to abandoning the role of the judiciary.” They concluded, “The superannuated nuclear power plant should be halted, and we will continue our battle.”
The plaintiffs filed an appeal with Osaka High Court on January 4, 2023.
Continuing Delays for Expected Completion of Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant
On December 26, 2022, Japan Nuclear Fuel, Limited (JNFL) announced a new completion date for the spent fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, which is to be completed “as early as possible in the first half of fiscal 2024.” JNFL had previously announced on September 7, 2022 that the completion would be delayed beyond the previously estimated first half of fiscal 2022, but had not stated precisely when it was set for. Including this new delay, there have been 27 delays in total. JNFL President Masuda Naohiro visited the Aomori Prefectural Office and Vice-president Sendo Toshikazu visited the Rokkasho Village Office on December 6 to report the new target date for completion. President Masuda held a press conference, where he was asked when “as early as possible” would be. He replied, “around April to June of 2024.” He estimated that approval of detailed plans would take about a year or so, after which the operator’s inspection and confirmation prior to use would take about four to seven months. He declared his determination to “continue to endeavor to achieve an even earlier completion, utilizing resources from all over Japan and placing the highest priory on safety.”
JNFL had split its detailed plans into two sets when applying for approval. The first of these received approval from the NRA on December 21, and President Masuda boasted that it was “a great step toward completion,” but it had taken two years from the date of application to its approval. At the “Review Meeting on Compliance with the New Regulatory Requirements for Nuclear Fuel Facilities” on November 15, the NRA Secretariat’s Director of Safety Regulation noted, “I wonder how many decades longer we will have to take to work through all the problems in these applications.”
So, finally, the first set of plans has been approved. The application for the second and final set was filed on December 26, the same day the construction plans were revised. It is difficult to imagine approval of the second set, covering about 25,000 remaining devices and pieces of equipment, proceeding within JNFL’s estimated “year or so.” A 28th delay is simply inevitable.
MOX Fuel Arrives at Takahama NPP
The transport ship carrying MOX fuel produced by the French company Orano Cycle, which departed from Cherbourg Harbor, France, on September 17, 2022, followed the Cape of Good Hope/Southwest Pacific Route, arrived at the exclusive harbor of Kanden’s Takahama NPP in Takahama Town, Fukui Prefecture on November 22. On the open sea it traveled together with a dummy ship, the Pacific Heron, but in the harbor, the real transport vessel, “Pacific Egret” passed in front of protesters.
Since 1999, when data on MOX fuel manufactured by BFNL of the UK was found to have been fabricated, Kanden has turned to France for fuel production. Big problems have arisen at the Melox plant in France, however, with lumpy plutonium powder and a decreased production capacity, resulting in only 16 assemblies arriving in November 2021, which was half of the expected 32 assemblies. The arrival of the other 16 assemblies was delayed by a year. No schedule has been established for the production of the 32 assemblies in Kanden’s order that have yet to be delivered.
JAEA to Provide Basic Design for Poland’s HTGR
Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) Director Koguchi Masanori signed a revised agreement on November 22, 2022 adding basic designs for a research reactor to the existing R&D cooperation agreement (Implementation Arrangement for Cooperation in R&D in the Field of HTGR (high-temperature gas-cooled reactor) Technology: concluded Sept. 2019) with Professor Krzysztof Kurek, Director General of Poland’s National Centre for Nuclear Research.
Poland’s government expects the HTGR to be used as a heat source for the chemical industry, planning to introduce a test reactor (thermal output 30 MW) in the latter half of the 2020s, and a commercial reactor (thermal output 165 MW) in the 2030s.
TEPCO Criminal Proceeding: Tokyo High Court’s Unjust Verdict
In its ruling on January 18, 2023, Tokyo High Court upheld the initial decision in the TEPCO criminal proceeding, finding the defendants, three former Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) executives, not guilty. What differs between this and the Tokyo District Court decision on July 13, 2022 on the shareholder representative action (where the executives were ordered to pay 13 trillion yen in compensation) is said to be that in criminal trials, which impose criminal penalties on individuals, the presumption of innocence applies as a principle, so strict proof is required. However, Tokyo High Court did not recognize the judge’s questioning of witnesses and on-site verification, delivering the verdict after only three hearings. This ruling on such a basis does nothing to alleviate the impression that rather than strictness, the conclusion had been decided from the start.
The Fukushima nuclear power plant prosecution team and criminal litigation support team’s counsel issued a statement pointing out, “The verdict… in our view, did not cite research results based on the long-term assessment by the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, and in claiming that there was no basis for a ‘realistic possibility’ of stopping the nuclear power plant’s operation, it denied the necessity itself for tsunami countermeasures. Seeking a ‘realistic possibility’ regarding scientific knowledge upon which accident countermeasures are based is a clear mistake, given the current state of seismology. We think verdicts of this kind excuse the failure to take needed steps to prevent accidents, and constitute dangerous reasoning which is laying the ground for future nuclear accidents to occur.”