News Watch 161 July/Aug. 2014
— All Towns and Villages of Fukushima Prefecture Call for Decommissioning of All Nuclear Reactors in the Prefecture
— Complete Liberalization of Retail Electricity Sales
— Members of the Nuclear Regulation Authority to Change
— Tohoku Electric Power Applies for Review of Compliance of Higashidori NPP with New Standards
— Nuclear Power Subcommittee Inaugurated
— Movement for Review of Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damages
— Sendai NPP passes the new regulatory requirements
In a general meeting of the council of local assembly chairpersons of Fukushima Prefecture on June 3, the council unanimously adopted a special resolution calling for decommissioning of all of the nuclear reactors in the prefecture. The next day, a general meeting of the Fukushima Prefectural Local Assemblies was held, and they also unanimously adopted the same special resolution.
The decision to decommission all six of TEPCO’s nuclear reactors at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station was finally taken last January, but despite repeated requests by Fukushima Prefecture, and resolutions by the prefectural assembly and all 59 of the prefecture’s local assemblies, both the national government and TEPCO have delayed any decision on the four units at Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station. The resolutions by the council of local assembly chairpersons and the local assemblies are calling for early realization of the decommissioning of the reactors at Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Station.
A revised Electric Industry Utility Law was established on June 11, stipulating complete liberalization of retail electricity sales by 2016. This ends the regional monopolies of the ten electric power companies of Japan (called “general electricity utilities”), which have divided Japan into the ten exclusive regions that they supply.
Retail sales to large consumers have already been liberalized. Starting in March 2000 with users able to receive 20,000 V or more and contracting for 2,000 kW or more, the scope was expanded to include smaller users from April 2004 and again in April 2005, but there has been considerable resistance from the general electricity utilities to full liberalization for households, small factories and other small-scale users, and thus liberalization has been repeatedly delayed.
Full liberalization has finally been achieved, and in fact, there are many new entrants. Future complications are thus predicted to occur along with the diversification of fees and services.
Two members of Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which was established in September 2012, will be replaced this September after two years of service. Retiring from their posts will be Deputy chairman Kunihiko Shimazaki and Commissioner Kenzo Oshima. Commissioner Shimazaki, in particular, often confronted the power companies regarding recognition of active geological faults within or near nuclear power plant grounds, incurring opposition from nuclear energy proponents. His replacement is seen as stemming from this opposition.
Replacing them from September will be Tokyo University Graduate School Professor Satoru Tanaka and Tohoku University Professor Akira Ishiwatari, who were approved by the House of Representatives on June 10 and the House of Councilors on June 11. Prof. Tanaka received remuneration from a TEPCO-affiliated organization up to about two years ago as a director of the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Inc. This is in conflict with the selection standards applied for choosing NRA members during the Democratic Party administration, but the current administration has decided not to use those standards.
On June 10, in a move towards restarting the Unit 1 reactor of the Higashidori Nuclear Power Station (BWR, 1,100 MW), Tohoku Electric Power Co. applied with the Nuclear Regulation Authority for a review its compliance with the new safety standards. This brings the total to 19 units at 12 nuclear power plants for which applications have been filed.
The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (an advisory body to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI)) has established a Nuclear Power Subcommittee, which held its first meeting on June 19. CNIC Co-director Hideyuki Ban has been appointed as a member.
As the regional electric power monopolies erode, it will be more difficult for those companies to achieve returns on large investments over the long term. Thus, with the establishment of the revised Electricity Business Act, supplementary resolutions have been added, including appropriate measures that have been discussed and crafted on how to handle nuclear power in a competitive environment, and measures for creation of a business environment, including assigned roles for the government and nuclear power companies, toward smooth implementation of nuclear reactor decommissioning.
Nuclear power proponents have naturally been treating the Nuclear Power Subcommittee as a venue for pursuing policies to keep nuclear power alive. In the midst of this, Co-director Ban has announced his intention of discussing how Japan might proceed toward abolishing nuclear power. Of the 21 members and five expert advisors (including nuclear power representatives) and one observer (vice-president of The Chugoku Electric Power), there are only two other members who advocate abolishing nuclear power. They will have a big role to play in winning over opinions among the moderate members and deterring conspiracies among nuclear power businesses to shirk their responsibilities.
The Senior Vice Minister Review Panel on the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage met for the first time on June 12. Participants included officials at the vice-ministerial level from MEXT, METI and other ministries. The panel is currently discussing the necessary legal framework for Japan’s membership in the CSC (Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage), but its biggest focus is on reviewing Japan’s current law, which forces electric power companies to assume unlimited liability.
The CSC was created by the IAEA in 1997, but aside from the US, its membership is limited to three countries, Argentina, Morocco and Romania, and is therefore unable to fulfill condition precedent. The declared purpose of this convention is to help victims. Certainly, one CSC feature is that if large-scale damage from a nuclear accident exceeds liability limits, it can increase the actual minimum amount of compensation by drawing from a supplementary fund to which all member nations contribute.
On the other hand, it does not allow victims outside the country where the accident occurred to claim compensation for nuclear damage, and it eliminates the risk to companies exporting equipment and technology of liability for enormous sums of compensation in their home countries.
At a meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on July 16, a screening report was approved that recognized the Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Sendai Nuclear Power Station Units 1 and 2 (PWR, 890 MW each) as compliant with the new safety standards. Public comments restricted to scientific and technical opinions are being solicited for the 30-day period up to August 30.
While the NRA chairperson, Tanaka Shun’ichi, stated that “We have examined compliance with the standards, but that doesn’t mean I’m saying they are safe,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said that the government policy that NPPs whose safety has been confirmed will be restarted is unchanged. The local Aira City council passed an opinion stating, “We are opposed to the restart of Sendai NPP Units 1 and 2, and demand the decommissioning of the reactors.” The city council of Ichiki Kushikino City passed an “Opinion Demanding the Establishment of an Effective Evacuation Plan to Protect the Lives of Citizens” addressed to the Governor of Kagoshima Prefecture. Restart of the NPP requires, among other things, a procedure to obtain the consent of local residents, and is expected to take place, if it does, sometime in October, or later, this year.