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Japanese Government frantically trying to win nuclear orders from Vietnam
The Japanese government is increasing its lobbying efforts to win nuclear orders from Vietnam. Russia has won a contact to carry out a feasibility study for the first phase of Vietnam's nuclear power plan (2 reactors), but a second phase (2 more reactors) is also planned. Furthermore, the possibility of exporting equipment for the first phase still remains.

On April 12, while attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama met with his Vietnamese counterpart Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. Hatoyama thanked Dung for his quick reply to his letter of March 3 (see NIT 135) and expressed his intention of soon beginning negotiations for a nuclear cooperation agreement between the two countries. The April 15 edition of the Atomic Industry Newspaper (Genshiryoku Sangyo Shimbun) reported their exchange as follows.

Hatoyama: "The Japanese Government wholeheartedly supports Vietnam. Based on our strategic partnership, Japan is prepared to cooperate in Vietnam's introduction of nuclear power. We therefore hope that you will soon choose Japan as a construction partner."

Dung: "I am aware of Japan's keen interest and appreciate Japan's cooperation till now. I highly esteem Japan's high safety standards and its technology. Based on our strategic partnership, I will give serious consideration to Japan's proposal."

Meanwhile, Vietnam's planning and investment minister, Vo Hong Phuc, was visiting Japan. He met Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Masayuki Naoshima on April 13 and Minister for Foreign Affairs Katsuya Okada on April 14. Phuc, who received similar requests to those from Prime Minister Hatoyama, said in an interview with Jiji Press, "Personally, I strongly hope that Japan will be involved and it is highly likely that it will be involved."

Yoshito Sengoku, Japan's state minister in charge of national policy, announced that he would join a delegation to Vietnam in May by Toshiba, Hitachi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Tokyo Electric, Kansai Electric and Chubu Electric Power Companies to provide government backing.

MOX fuel departs France
On April 8, the specialist ship Pacific Heron departed the French port of Cherbourg for Japan loaded with 32 MOX fuel assemblies, 8 for Kansai Electric's Takahama-3 reactor (PWR, 870MW), 4 for Takahama-4 (PWR, 870MW) and 20 for Kyushu Electric's Genkai-3 (PWR, 1180MW). It is scheduled to arrive in Japan in the latter half of June. All the MOX assemblies were fabricated at Areva's Melox factory.

A British security company is supplying armed security guards for the journey. Double the number of guards used for shipments of normal nuclear fuel are on board the Pacific Heron for this MOX shipment. The Pacific Heron is being accompanied by the Pacific Pintail, which also has armed security guards on board. The two ships will guard each other.

JNFL fails to recover fallen tile
The Rokkasho Reprocessing Plant has been constructed in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture, but commercial operations have been greatly delayed due to problems with the high-level liquid waste vitrification facility (see NIT 132).

On April 3 Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) began an unsuccessful attempt to recover a tile that had fallen from the inner wall of the vitrification furnace. The process began by heating the furnace to melt the remaining glass mixture. A mechanical arm was used to search for the tile, which could not be seen, but before it could pick up the tile the glass solidified again. One after the other, items of equipment used in the recovery effort became unusable and eventually the attempt was suspended on April 21.

Under the original schedule the tile was to be recovered last year. However, new equipment was made and attempts to recover the tile restarted on May 15. Even if the tile is recovered, it is still necessary to remove sediments of metal material that have accumulated at the bottom of the furnace and to check equipment before the vitrification tests can be resumed.

Clearly it is impossible to meet the October date for completion of the tests. However, in his April 28 press conference JNFL President Yoshihiko Kawai refused to concede, saying, "I don't intend to change the target."

Construction of MOX fabrication plant postponed
Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL) plans to build a MOX fuel fabrication plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. The scheduled date for commencement of construction was May this year. However, JNFL President Yoshihiko Kawai announced at his April 28 press conference that it was not possible to meet this schedule.

The Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Safety Commission completed their reviews on April 19 and April 21 respectively for the basic design and construction plan. They gave the Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry the green light to give his approval. He duly obliged on May 13, but JNFL must still submit a more detailed design and construction plan for approval.

MHI to invest in Areva
Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) is making final arrangements to invest about 50 billion yen in Areva (2% - 3% ownership). It is expected that a final settlement will be reached in May, but the French Government, which owns the shares, is hoping for a high price, so negotiations may still take some time.

The French Government and government-owned agencies own 90% of Areva's shares, but the company's financial base has deteriorated due to huge nuclear-related investments. In June last year Areva adopted a policy of selling up to 15% of the group's capital to overseas companies. It has been soliciting investment from MHI, Middle Eastern sovereign funds and so on.

TEPCO to Invest in US Nuclear Project
On May 10, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) indicated its intention of taking a stake in the South Texas Project (STP). NRG Energy and Toshiba plan to build two Toshiba-developed advanced boiling water reactors (ABWR) at the STP site, through their jointly owned company, Nuclear Innovation North America LLC (NINA).

TEPCO will invest $155 million, through its U.S.-based subsidiary, for a 10% share of NINA Investments Holdings' interest in the STP. The $155 million includes a $30 million option payment enabling TEPCO to buy an additional 10% share later. TEPCO is already providing technical consulting services for the project.

TEPCO said its investment depends on the project receiving a conditional commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy for a loan guarantee. TEPCO also hopes for support from the Japanese Government through Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and Nippon Export and Investment and Insurance (NEXI).

Nuclear Cooperation with India: Industry trumps Abolition
On April 30 Japan took the first step towards nuclear cooperation with India. Masayuki Naoshima, Japanese Minister for Economy, Trade and Industry, and Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of India's Planning Commission, issued a joint statement on energy during the fourth ministerial-level meeting of the energy dialogue between India and Japan.

According to the statement, "The two ministries decided to establish a Nuclear Energy Working Group under the energy dialogue to exchange views and information on their respective nuclear energy policies from the energy, economic and industrial perspectives."

However, before Japan can export any nuclear technology, the two countries must conclude a bilateral Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, in which both parties undertake not to divert nuclear materials and technology for military purposes. Japan has in the past refused to share nuclear technology with India, because it has not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and it developed nuclear weapons after the NPT was in place.

Naoshima said, "The working group (launched by Japan and India) will not be an organization to discuss a nuclear pact....The conclusion of the pact is necessary. It will be discussed in a different framework."

In Tokyo, about 30 Japanese NGO leaders sent a protest statement to the government on the same day that the ministers were meeting in New Delhi. They pointed out the irony of beginning discussions on nuclear cooperation with India just as the NPT Review Conference was about to get under way in New York. They questioned the government's ability and will to play a leadership role in nuclear abolition and called on it to restrict its energy cooperation with India to areas such as renewable energy and energy conservation.

The representatives of Japanese nuclear plant makers Toshiba, Mitsubishi and Hitachi were present during the energy dialogue. The Indian Government has allocated sites for Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi to build nuclear power plants, but it will be virtually impossible for these US-based companies to proceed without using Japanese industry and technology.

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