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Mitsubishi Heavy, Hitachi to develop new nuclear reactor for 2030s use

A rendering of a new type of nuclear reactor to be developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. with four major Japanese utilities. (Courtesy of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries

September 29, 2022

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and a subsidiary of Hitachi Ltd. will separately develop next-generation nuclear reactors in what could be the first two projects in the government’s recent policy shift to push nuclear energy.

Mitsubishi Heavy said Thursday it will develop with four major Japanese utilities an advanced light-water reactor, a new type of pressurized water reactor, or PWR, deemed safer than existing models, and plan to put it into use in the mid-2030s.

The four power companies — Kansai Electric Power Co., Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co. — all operate Mitsubishi Heavy reactors at their nuclear plants.

The new reactor, called SRZ-1200, is designed to be more resilient to natural disasters, such as tsunamis and earthquakes, as well as terrorist attacks, Mitsubishi said.

The facility, with an output of about 1.2 million kilowatts, will also enhance equipment to seal off melted nuclear fuel in a containment vessel and prevent or limit radiation leaks in the event of an accident.

Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd., a Hitachi subsidiary, will also develop an advanced nuclear reactor based on light-water reactor technology for use in the mid-2030s, a person familiar with the matter said Thursday. Hitachi has an 80.01 percent stake in the subsidiary, with the rest owned by General Electric Co.

These plans come as the Japanese government announced in August that it would promote the construction of next-generation nuclear power plants to ensure a stable electricity supply without producing carbon dioxide emissions, in a major reversal from its policy of no new nuclear energy.

Among a variety of next-generation nuclear reactor types, the government plans to prioritize developing advanced light-water reactors as it could utilize existing supply chains, given the technological similarities to PWRs.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno welcomed the news of Mitsubishi Heavy’s project, saying at a press conference, “I hope relevant ministries will consider (helping the development of) next-generation reactors based on research and development activities like this.”

Concerns over the safety of nuclear power generation remain strong in Japan after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011 — the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Such safety concerns prompted the government to shelve the construction of new nuclear reactors, even as Japanese nuclear regulators set stricter safety regulations after the Fukushima disaster.

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20220929/p2g/00m/0bu/053000c

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October 1, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , | 2 Comments

Mitsubishi Heavy to develop new nuke reactor with 4 utilities

An artist’s rendering of the advanced light water reactor SRZ-1200 to be jointly developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and four major Japanese power utilities (Provided by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd.)

September 30, 2022

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and four major Japanese power utilities will work together to develop a next-generation nuclear reactor that will go online in the 2030s, the company announced on Sept. 29.

The announcement comes as the central government reverses course from its cautious nuclear energy policies set in the aftermath of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries plans to develop an advanced light water reactor, an improved version of conventional pressurized water reactors. It will do so jointly with Kansai Electric Power Co., Kyushu Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Hokkaido Electric Power Co.

It will be one of the next-generation reactors that the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is considering promoting, along with other next-generation reactors, alongside rebuilding existing ones.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has been working with the four utilities, which operate pressurized water reactors, to develop new technology to enhance the safety of the reactors.

A Mitsubishi Heavy Industries official said the new reactor will be safer than conventional ones since it will be equipped with a “core catcher,” designed to cool melted reactor cores in the event of a reactor meltdown like the ones at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.

The new reactor could also generate 1.2 gigawatts of electricity, equivalent to the capacity of a large nuclear reactor in Japan, according to the official.

But the company has yet to decide which utility will build the planned reactor and where it will be built because of difficulties finding a new construction site amid a strong public distrust toward nuclear reactors.

One potential candidate site is KEPCO’s Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, according to a source. The utility is decommissioning the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, while more than 40 years have passed since the No. 3 reactor first went online.

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has not disclosed the cost to build the new reactor, either.

One estimate suggests the construction of a new nuclear reactor will require 1 trillion yen ($6.91 billion), nearly double the amount spent on building an existing one, due to additional expenses required to comply with stricter safety regulations.

The central government plans to include nuclear reactors in its new support measures to encourage the construction of power plants amid calls from major utilities for financial support.

The government had long maintained that it had no plans to push for the construction of new nuclear reactors or the rebuilding of existing ones in the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster.

But the Kishida administration changed that policy after energy costs began to soar and the country faced the prospect of a severe power shortage. Kishida said in August that he will consider promoting the development and construction of next-generation rectors with new safety mechanisms.

https://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/14731525

October 1, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Plan to build Monju successor to Recycle Plutonium Stocks

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Hiroshige Seko, right, minister of economy, trade and industry, before a meeting of the government’s committee for fast reactor development on Nov. 30

Japan unable to scrap recycling program due to plutonium stocks

Japan is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to pressing ahead with its dream of a perpetual energy source through nuclear fuel recycling.

Having poured hundreds of billions of yen into the failed Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor project, it is belatedly considering decommissioning the facility. But it is still left with a huge stockpile of plutonium, and no way of reducing the amount in the coming years.

Having come this far, Japan is simply not able to abandon the problem-plagued, money-guzzling technology, hence its Nov. 30 plan to build a demonstration fast reactor to replace Monju.

Unlike Monju, which uses and generates plutonium, a fast reactor only burns plutonium.

If Japan abandoned its nuclear fuel recycling policy, it would be like opening ‘Pandora’s box,’” said a senior official at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the nation’s nuclear energy policy, referring to the new fast reactor program. “A project illustrating Japan’s intent to continue the development of a fast reactor serves as the seal of approval.”

The government’s committee for fast reactor development, which is headed by industry minister Hiroshige Seko, said it expects to have the development regime in place in 2018. The following 10 years would be given over to scientists to work on the basic design of the fast reactor.

A demonstration reactor is one stage closer to a commercial reactor compared with a prototype reactor such as Monju.

Nuclear fuel recycling uses plutonium recovered from reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel generated at nuclear power plants.

Monju in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, also uses plutonium as fuel. Or rather, it was supposed to. The project has come under intense criticism because it has hardly operated since it achieved criticality more than 20 years ago. The government has poured about 1 trillion yen ($8.9 billion) into Monju.

If Japan pulled the plug on the development of a fast reactor, it would jeopardize the nuclear fuel recycling program and create new problems that the government has adroitly avoided dealing with to date.

For one, all spent nuclear fuel from nuclear power plants across the country would suddenly just become “waste.”

As a result, the government would have no compelling reason to justify the storage of nuclear fuel waste at the spent nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture. The plant has yet to be completed although it was initially expected to be finished in 1997.

The government has been unable to decide where nuclear waste should be placed for permanent disposal since no municipalities in Japan want such facilities in their backyards.

And then there is the issue of Japan’s stockpile of 48 tons of plutonium and being able to offer assurances to the international community that this country poses no threat to others.

The stockpile is sufficient to produce 6,000 atomic weapons.

If Japan retains the plutonium stockpile with no plan to use it in the near future after it abandons the development of a fast reactor, it could fuel international concerns that Japan may have nuclear ambitions.

The agreement between Japan and the United States concerning the civil use of atomic energy will expire in July 2018.

The pact allows Japan to recover plutonium from spent nuclear fuel on the condition that the country will not use plutonium to manufacture nuclear weapons.

If Japan holds on to the reprocessing program while scrapping the project to develop a fast reactor, it will be left with an ever-growing stockpile of plutonium.

We cannot rule out the possibility that it could have ramifications on the revision of the agreement,” said a senior official at the Foreign Ministry with regard to the plutonium issue.

Tatsujiro Suzuki, a professor of nuclear energy at Nagasaki University and former vice chairman of the government’s Nuclear Energy Commission, expressed skepticism about taking on a new fast reactor project when scientists could elicit few tangible results about performance and operational safety from Monju.

With the government set to undertake a new reactor project, Japan is also banking on joining France’s ASTRID program to access a range of data on the operation of a demonstration fast reactor. This refers to the Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration.

But it is still unclear even whether the ASTRID program will ever go ahead.

If we engaged in discussions with little transparency, the international community would come to harbor doubts about Japan’s intention concerning plutonium and lose confidence in Japan,” Suzuki said.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201612010089.html

Plan to build Monju successor is outrageously irresponsible

The government at a closed meeting on Nov. 30 revealed plans to develop a demonstration fast reactor as the successor to the Monju prototype fast-breeder reactor in Fukui Prefecture, which will be decommissioned.

A totally irrational policy decision is now being made behind closed doors only by people with vested interests in the trouble-plagued Monju program.

The government is making a head-long plunge into another costly reactor project that has no solid prospects of success. The government has not scrutinized nor learned lessons from the miserable failure of the Monju program.

This behavior is outrageously irresponsible.

More than 1 trillion yen ($8.8 billion) has been poured into the development and operation of Monju, but the reactor operated for only around 220 days during the 20-plus years since it first achieved criticality in 1994.

The experimental reactor has been mostly idle because of a series of accidents and troubles, including a 1995 leak of liquid sodium used as the coolant, a material that is famously hard to handle.

In contrast, the Joyo test fast reactor, which represents the first stage of developing a practical fast-breeder reactor, has operated for a total of 3,000 days, more than 13 times longer than Monju’s record.

This again shows that technological challenges involved in the development of such sophisticated new technology become far more formidable as the project moves to the later stages.

Unlike Monju, the new experimental fast reactor envisioned by the government would not be a breeder reactor that generates more fissile material–plutonium to be exact–than it consumes. But it will be based on the same fast reactor technology.

Given that even operating a prototype fast-breeder reactor has proved such a fierce challenge, there are countless reasons to doubt the viability of the government’s plan to develop a cheap and safe demonstration fast reactor.

The government says it will seek international cooperation for the project. But France’s Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration (ASTRID) program, which the Japanese government is counting on for its fast reactor project, is itself facing an unclear future. The French government is expected to decide in 2019 on whether to build the fast demonstration reactor.

The Japanese government is not even bothering to set up a proper forum for discussions on the new project.

The Nov. 30 meeting was attended by the industry minister, the science and technology minister, representatives of the Federation of Electric Power Companies, which is the power industry lobby, executives of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., which makes nuclear reactors, and officials of the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of Monju. They are all parties involved in the Monju program.

The two officials of Japan Atomic Energy Agency who were present at the meeting are a former Mitsubishi Heavy Industries executive and a former science and technology official.

In other words, the decision-making process concerning the project is totally controlled by the interests of the government and the nuclear power industry.

Why is the government so fixated on developing fast reactor technology?

Monju has long been cast as the linchpin of a nuclear fuel recycling program in which plutonium extracted from reprocessed spent nuclear fuel is burned in a fast-breeder reactor.

Now that it has decided to decommission Monju, the government is apparently concerned that the lack of the troubled reactor’s successor could cause the entire nuclear fuel recycling program to collapse, undermining its efforts to promote nuclear power generation.

Japan, however, already has a stockpile of 48 tons of plutonium, enough to make 6,000 ordinary nuclear bombs.

With no prospects of practical use of a fast reactor, Japan’s fixation on establishing a nuclear fuel recycling system makes no economic sense and only raises suspicions in the international community.

The government has been roundly criticized for its obstinate adherence to nuclear power policy decisions made in the past.

But the disaster that occurred in 2011 at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has led to broad public recognition of the importance of impartial debate on related issues not influenced by special interests or past developments.

Now, however, the government is ignoring the lessons learned from the nuclear disaster. It is seeking to make the decision in collusive meetings to spend a huge amount of taxpayer money on the highly questionable fast reactor project. This folly cannot be acceptable by any means.

http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201612010046.html

December 2, 2016 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment