Newspeak—“Nukes are Safe. Nukes Reduce Carbon.”

By Matsukubo Hajime (CNIC)


Looking back at the situation regarding Japanese nuclear reactors in 2023, 12 nuclear reactors (11,608 MW) were operating, an increase of two reactors over the previous year, with Takahama Plant Unit 1 restarting in August and Unit 2 in September. 24 reactors are due to be decommissioned, unchanged from the previous year (17,423 MW, including single-reactor Tokai Power Station and Hamaoka Plant Units 1 and 2). Ten reactors are under review for approval based on the new regulation standards (10,681 MW, including the single-reactor Ohma Plant and Shimane Plant Unit 3), five reactors have passed the review (5,457 MW) and nine reactors have not yet applied for a review (9,630 MW, including the Tokyo Electric Power Co. Higashidori Plant).


Trends concerning the restart of reactors

Of the reactors that have been approved under the new regulation standards, Tohoku Electric Power Onagawa Unit 2 and Chugoku Electric Power Shimane Unit 2 are expected to restart in 2024. According to previous announcements, preparations for Onagawa Unit 2 should have been completed in February 2024 with a restart in May but Tohoku Electric Power announced on 10th January 2024 that there will be several months postponement due to the delay in completion of construction work.  Shimane Unit 2 is scheduled to be completed in May and the reactor restarted in August. Local municipalities have already given their consent to both restarts.

On the other hand, construction at Japan Atomic Power Company’s Tokai No. 2 Power Station was planned to be completed in September 2024, but in October 2023 a tide wall construction was found to have faults and the company announced a plan to  strengthen construction and do other necessary work. The utility had explained that the construction work was making smooth progress, but did not make the faults public for four months after discovery. The impact on the construction schedule is currently unknown.

The evacuation program is also an outstanding issue at Tokai No. 2 Nuclear Power Station. The government of Ibaraki Prefecture, where the station is located, requested the Japan Atomic Power Company, the owner, to conduct a simulation of the diffusion of radioactive substances. A third-party verification commission examined the simulation results and announced that they were “generally adequate.” However, the simulation did not assume the worst case; it was conducted by setting the accident and weather conditions so that those living in the area 30 kilometers around the station would need to evacuate or temporarily relocate. The simulation assumed that at most 100,000 people would evacuate.

In September 2020, an employee entered the central control rooms Kashiwazaki–Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) Units 6 and 7 using a different employee’s ID card. A part of the Physical Protection Equipment was also found to be out of order at the NPP in January 2021. In response to this, in April 2021, the Nuclear Regulation Authority prohibited the relocation of nuclear fuel at the plant. The order effectively prohibited the operation of the plant. The order was lifted on December 27 last year, as it was deemed that the Kashiwazaki–Kariwa NPP owner, Tokyo Electric Power Co. has taken measures to improve the situation. Niigata Prefecture, where the NPP is located, hastened to put an end to discussions about the “three verification subjects” in prefectural committees, which were to verify the causes of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, effects of NPP accidents on health and livelihoods, and safe evacuation. While a flurry of opposing opinions was presented, the prefecture organized explanatory gatherings for the prefectural population in November and December, thereby closing down the attempted verification.

The restart of other NPPs is not expected for the time being.

Since some time ago, Fukui Prefecture has requested Kansai Electric Power to determine a candidate location to which spent fuel in the prefecture would be relocated for temporary storage. Kansai Electric Power announced a policy to build an interim storage site on the premises of the planned Kaminoseki Power Station in Yamaguchi Prefecture, in cooperation with Chugoku Electric Power, and to build dry storage facilities on the premises of its nuclear plants in Fukui. Fukui Governor Sugimoto Tatsuji accepted this policy, but commented about the construction of dry storage facilities on nuclear plant premises in the prefecture: “I would like to examine the details of the plan and make a decision after hearing opinions from the prefectural assembly.”

Concerning the treatment of spent fuel, Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL) announced that its Rokkasho reprocessing plant would be completed in FY2024, but as far as the authority’s review process shows, its completion is unlikely during the year.


Moves intended to prepare a good environment for the nuclear power industry

The biggest move concerning the environment surrounding the nuclear power industry was the governmental policy change that attempts to promote nuclear power in connection with the Green Transformation (GX) policy inaugurated in 2022. The word GX is a newly coined term intended to mean the transformation of the industrial and social structure that has been reliant on fossil energy since the Industrial Revolution into a clean energy-centered structure.

Many NPPs have long been shut down in order to satisfy the new regulations established after the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi accident. Under this GX policy, the shutdown period would not be included in their operational period. The operational period approval used to be required from the NRA, but this authorizing function has been shifted to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) which promotes nuclear power (as per the Electricity Enterprises Act and Nuclear Reactor Regulation Act). Further, the Atomic Energy Act, which is known as the “constitution of the nuclear power industry,” has been revised. This means that the government intends to promote nuclear power, regarding it useful for reducing carbon emissions. The national government will thus support nuclear power based on the GX Promotion Act.

After the 2011 TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi accident, the government decided to limit the operational period of nuclear power reactors to 40 years, which might be extended by 20 years in exceptional cases, based on lessons learned from the accident. The national government repeatedly commented that it had no plan to build new plants or reactors. Thus far, phasing out nuclear power gradually had been the country’s policy: There was a limit to the operational life of nuclear power plants, no new plants would be built, and the construction of additional reactors at existing plants would not be allowed. The government has now made considerable changes to this policy.


Nuclear power as a carbon-reducing approach

The 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28) took place in December, and as a side event of the conference, 23 countries including the U.S., U.K. and Japan, released a statement that they would triple nuclear power facility capacity by 2050. The intention is to cut carbon emissions through nuclear power. On December 14, the Global Stocktake (a system that evaluates the emission reduction status in each country to achieve the long-term goal of the Paris Agreement, which established a greenhouse gas reduction goal) was adopted. The Global Stocktake specifies the necessity for a reinforcement of efforts for “Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems,” “Accelerating zero- and low-emission technologies, including, inter alia, renewables, nuclear, abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and utilization and storage . . . and low-carbon hydrogen production.” Russia is said to have played a major role in the adoption. While the stocktake includes specific numerical targets such as tripling renewables equipment capacity by 2030 and doubling the energy consumption efficiency improvement rate, its wording is rather vague. However, it is certain that METI and the nuclear power industry will take advantage of this.

It is a big mistake to regard NPPs as a carbon-free power source. Nuclear power generation is costly and requires long lead times. Carbon-producing power supplies would need to run continuously up until a nuclear plant begins to operate. Investment in other inexpensive power generation systems that can be more quickly introduced, such as solar power and wind turbines, would be impeded, thus delaying carbon reduction.

The statement by 23 countries plans to triple the global capacity of NPPs, but what each country can do domestically is a different issue. In fact, Japan says that it will contribute through technology export. The U.S., which played a leading role in stipulating this statement, does not have sufficient room to build further NPPs within the country. The real aim of this statement is not to triple nuclear power capacity, but to pressurize the World Bank and other financial institutions, which are currently not positive about making loans for nuclear plant exports, to alter their policy. Namely, for the sake of the nuclear industry that can build no further plants in their own countries, the statement attempts to facilitate low-interest loans to facilitate the importation of NPPs by developing countries. However, a nuclear power reactor costs 1 to 2 trillion yen, and it is doubtful whether many countries would be inclined to import reactors.

In 2024, the Long-Term Decarbonization Power Source Auction will start in Japan. Its aim is to realize long-term financial support for power sources that may contribute to carbon reduction. The construction of new NPPs is eligible for the auction, and existing nuclear stations are planned to be eligible in the future. Nuclear power plants are expensive, and a gigantic amount of money has been invested in the repair work of plants that have been kept out of service. It is doubtful whether the plants would be cost-competitive even if operated in excess of 60 years. Accordingly, pro-nuclear circles are attempting to provide financial aid for nuclear plants in the name of carbon reduction. The costs will be added to the power bill and the consumers will pay for it.


The Seventh Energy Basic Plan

The Energy Basic Plan, which establishes the Japanese mid-term energy policy, is reviewed and updated every three years. The sixth Energy Basic Plan came out in 2021, and it will be reviewed and revised this year. There is concern that, because of the introduction of GX, the plan is expected to describe nuclear power more positively than before. Citizens will need to pay attention to the policy review.

In addition to the above-mentioned issues, we confront many problems, including the final disposal of radioactive waste and decommissioning of the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. CNIC staff are determined to make their best efforts to realize a society free from nuclear power. We would very much appreciate your continued support and cooperation.

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