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Japanese panel approves return to nuclear power as disaster memories fade

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks at a meeting of his “green transformation” panel at the Prime Minister’s Office on Thursday.

Dec 22, 2022

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s advisory panel approved a plan to extend the lifespans of nuclear reactors beyond 60 years and build new units to replace those that are decommissioned, reversing policies put in place after the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

The step reflects a shift in public opinion, as the import-reliant country struggles with the threat of blackouts amid Russia’s war in Ukraine and extreme weather. While massive demonstrations calling for the abolition of atomic power were a regular occurrence in the wake of the meltdowns, recent polls indicate growing support for restarting idled plants.

The government is aiming to present legislation to parliament during the next session to put the basic plan into action, Kishida told a meeting of his “green transformation” panel, which is made up mostly of business executives and academics, on Thursday. The proposal will be opened for public comment and could gain Cabinet approval by February, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

Japan is joining a global shift back to nuclear energy after the prices of natural gas and coal shot to records this year as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine upended markets. The Kishida administration is also turning to nuclear to help curb emissions and hit Japan’s 2050 net-zero target.

A survey by the Yomiuri newspaper in August found 58% in favor of restarting idled reactors, the first time a majority approved of the idea in that poll series since the question was initially posed in 2017. A separate survey by public broadcaster NHK earlier this month found 45% approved of the panel’s plan, while 37% opposed it.

The government still faces some opposition from local residents over nuclear restarts and lawsuits related to safety concerns still keep many reactors offline. Only a third of Japan’s operable reactors have restarted since the 2011 disaster.


January 5, 2023 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

After the Fukushima disaster, Japan swore to phase out nuclear power. But not anymore

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is seen on March 17. Japan on Thursday adopted a new policy promoting greater use of nuclear energy to ensure a stable power supply amid global fuel shortages and reduce carbon emissions — a major reversal of its phaseout plan since the Fukushima crisis.

December 22, 2022

TOKYO — Japan adopted a plan on Thursday to extend the lifespan of nuclear reactors, replace the old and even build new ones, a major shift in a country scarred by the Fukushima disaster that once planned to phase out atomic power.

In the face of global fuel shortages, rising prices and pressure to reduce carbon emissions, Japan’s leaders have begun to turn back toward nuclear energy, but the announcement was their clearest commitment yet after keeping mum on delicate topics like the possibility of building new reactors.

Under the new policy, Japan will maximize the use of existing reactors by restarting as many of them as possible and prolonging the operating life of aging ones beyond a 60-year limit. The government also pledged to develop next-generation reactors.In 2011, a powerful earthquake and the ensuing tsunami caused multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant — a disaster that supercharged anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan and at one point led the government to promise to phase out the energy by around 2030. But since then, the government has recommitted to the technology, including setting a target for nuclear to make up 20-22% of the country’s energy mix by the end of the decade.

Still, restart approvals for idled nuclear reactors have come slowly since the Fukushima disaster, which led to stricter safety standards. Utility companies have applied for restarts at 27 reactors in the past decade. Seventeen have passed safety checks and only 10 have resumed operation.

According the paper laying out the new policy, nuclear power serves “an important role as a carbon-free baseload energy source in achieving supply stability and carbon neutrality” and pledged to “sustain use of nuclear power into the future.” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to get the Cabinet to approve the policy and submit necessary bills to Parliament.

As part of the new policy, the Economy and Industry Ministry has drafted a plan to allow extensions every 10 years for reactors after 30 years of operation while also permitting utilities to subtract offline periods in calculating reactors’ operational life.

The plan was endorsed on Wednesday by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear watchdog. New safety inspection rules still need to be put into law and approved by Parliament.

The regulation authority’s commissioner, Shinichi Yamanaka, told a news conference the new safety rules requiring operational permits every decade after 30 years will be safer than a current one-time 20-year extension option for 40-year-old reactors. But experts cast some doubt on that.

Some experts question extending the lifespan of older reactors

Takeo Kikkawa, an economics professor at the International University of Japan and an expert on energy, said utility operators under the new policy could keep using old equipment instead of investing in new technology or renewables.

“Naturally, we should aim for newer technology and use it safely. Therefore, extending reactors’ lifespans is an undesirable move,” Kikkawa recently told a talk show.

Most nuclear reactors in Japan are more than 30 years old. Four reactors that have operated for more than 40 years have received permission to operate, and one is currently online.

Under the new policy, Japan will also push for the development and construction of “next-generation innovative reactors” to replace about 20 reactors now set for decommissioning.

Kenichi Oshima, a Ryukoku University professor of environmental economy and energy policy, said some of what the government calls “innovative” reactors are not so different from existing technology and that prospects for nuclear fusion and other next-generation reactors are largely uncertain and not achievable anytime soon.

Thursday’s adoption of the new policy comes less than four months after Kishida launched the “GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council” of outside experts and ministers to “consider all options” to compile a new policy that addresses global fuel shortages amid Russia’s war on Ukraine and seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Japan’s nuclear energy goals may be out of reach

Nuclear energy accounts for less than 7% of Japan’s energy supply, and achieving the government’s goal of raising that share to 20-22% by 2030 will require about 27 reactors, from the current 10 — a target some say is not achievable. The new policy also does not help address imminent supply shortages because reactors cannot be restarted quickly enough.

While public opinion on nuclear energy has softened since Fukushima, opponents still argue atomic power is not flexible and not even cheaper than renewables when final waste management and necessary safety measures are considered — and that it can cause immeasurable damage in an accident.

Ruiko Muto, a survivor of the Fukushima disaster, called the new policy “extremely disappointing.” She added: “The Fukushima disaster is not over yet and the government seems to have already forgotten what happened.”

The regulation authority came under fire Wednesday after revelations by a civil group that a few of its experts had discussed details with industry ministry officials before the watchdog was officially asked to consider a rule change for aging reactors, despite their compulsory independence.

Prime Minister Kishida also said Thursday that the government will do more to find candidate sites for a final repository for high-level nuclear waste that Japan does not yet have. Preliminary studies have begun in two small towns in Hokkaido, angering some residents.

January 5, 2023 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Bad move to prolong the life of an industry with no growth potential: Official Decision to Operate Nuclear Power Plants for More Than 60 Years, With the Goal of Restoring the Nuclear Power Plant Accident Unseen

Prime Minister’s Office

December 22, 2022
 On the afternoon of December 22, the government will hold a meeting of the Green Transformation (GX) Council at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss industrial transformation to realize a decarbonized society, and will formally decide on a basic policy that includes measures to utilize nuclear power plants, focusing on operating them for “more than 60 years” and rebuilding (replacing) them.
After the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in 2011, the government had legally limited the operating period of nuclear power plants to “40 years in principle, with a maximum of 60 years,” and had stated that it “does not envision” rebuilding or adding new plants, but 11 years and 9 months after the accident, the government is making a major change in its nuclear policy.
 According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, nuclear power plants will be allowed to operate for more than 60 years, excluding the period of suspension due to the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s examination and judicial decisions for restarting operations. The revised bill is expected to be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next year.
 In addition, the company will move forward with concrete plans to rebuild nuclear power plants that have been decided to be decommissioned with next-generation nuclear power plants, based on the assumption that safety is ensured and that the local governments in which the plants are located have their understanding. The construction of new nuclear power plants is estimated to cost more than 1 trillion yen, and the government will also consider financial support measures to help electric power companies bear the initial costs.
 The basic policy will also include the development of the power grid to maximize the use of renewable energy.
 At the end of July, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed relevant ministries and agencies to advance discussions on overcoming the energy crisis caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the GX as one, and to specify items requiring a political decision.
◆ While uninhabitable areas still remain and compensation for the affected people is still ongoing
 Prime Minister Kishida is calling it a “political decision” to change the nuclear energy policy. While the GX’s cause of reforming the socioeconomic system to combat global warming has been raised, the maximum utilization of nuclear power plants is a bad move, a measure to prolong the life of an industry that is not expected to grow.
 There are two pillars of the government’s decision to utilize nuclear power plants: The first is to cut to the bare bones the rule of “40 years in principle, with a maximum of 60 years” for operation, effectively allowing operation “beyond 60 years.
 Ensuring the safety of old nuclear power plants requires an enormous amount of manpower, money, and time. Nuclear power plants, which the government has promoted as an “inexpensive power source,” would impose a tremendous double-digit trillion-yen burden on electric power companies if even one severe accident were to occur. The accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant 11 years and 9 months ago brought this to light.
 The other pillar of the plan is to rebuild the decommissioned nuclear power plants with next-generation nuclear power plants. Although it is touted as the introduction of new technology, the number of human resources in the industry has decreased since the Fukushima accident, and there is an undeniable lack of personnel and technical capabilities. Nuclear power plant construction has long ceased, and nuclear power plant exports, promoted as a growth strategy by the Shinzo Abe administration, the longest in the postwar era, have failed at every turn.
 At the site of the world’s worst nuclear accident, located 220 kilometers from Tokyo, the goal of restoration work remains elusive. Uninhabitable areas remain in the vicinity of the plant, and compensation for the victims is still ongoing. There is no hope for political decisions that do not face reality. (Shinichi Ogawa)

January 5, 2023 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

METI panel of experts approves policy of extending operating period and promoting rebuilding of nuclear power plants

December 16, 2022

The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) has approved a proposal for the utilization of nuclear power plants by the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), which focuses on the reconstruction (replacement) of nuclear power plants that the government has kept under wraps following the TEPCO Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, at a meeting on December 16. This is a clear shift in nuclear energy policy only less than five months after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s order, amid the ongoing restoration work from the Fukushima accident and compensation for the victims of the disaster. The government will make a formal decision at the Green Transformation (GX) Implementation Conference to be held before the end of the year.

At a meeting of the Basic Policy Subcommittee of the Advisory Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, Yasutoshi Nishimura, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry, said, “We would like to move forward with concrete steps to rebuild the reactors we have decided to decommission into next-generation innovative reactors (next-generation nuclear power plants)” on the premise that safety is assured and local governments understand the situation.
 The law was amended after the Fukushima accident to limit the operating period of nuclear power plants to “40 years in principle, with a maximum of 60 years,” but by excluding the shutdown period due to the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s review and other factors, it will be possible to operate nuclear power plants for over 60 years. The government is expected to submit the revised bill to the ordinary Diet session next year.
 At the end of July, the prime minister had ordered a study of measures to ensure a stable energy supply toward a decarbonized society. (Shinichi Ogawa)
◆An overwhelming majority of committee members advocate the promotion of nuclear power generation
 On July 16, the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) held a meeting of its experts, the Subcommittee on Basic Policy of the Advisory Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, and approved the ministry’s policy, which focuses on rebuilding (replacing) nuclear power plants and allowing them to operate for 60 years or longer. The committee approved the policy. While an overwhelming majority of the committee members advocated the promotion of nuclear power plants, only one member called for careful discussion.
 At 1:00 p.m. in a conference room on the 17th floor of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo. Eighteen of the 21 committee members were present, including online, and three were absent. In addition to METI Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura, the meeting was attended by executives including Hosaka Shin, director general of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.
 The METI officials explained that the public discussion should be held over a period of about one year. The only one who “waited” on the METI’s proposed policy on the use of nuclear power plants was Ms. Chisato Murakami, an advisor to the committee on consumer affairs. Murakami also criticized the ministry’s approach to the discussion, saying that it was “too hasty” at another METI expert panel meeting on the nuclear energy subcommittee, which discussed the use of nuclear power plants in detail.
 Each committee member had five minutes to express his or her opinion. The other committee members supported METI’s policy, calling it “groundbreaking. Shuzo Sumi, a member of the committee and Senior Advisor to Tokio Marine & Nichido Fire Insurance, commented, “Construction of nuclear power plants has been halted for more than 10 years. We need to make a decision now in terms of human resources and industry.
 Commissioner Takeo Tachibanagawa, Vice President of Kokusai University, said that while nuclear power plants are necessary, he disagreed with the current policy. He pointed out the contradiction in the policy, saying, “Extending the operation of nuclear power plants will postpone the construction of next-generation innovative reactors (next-generation nuclear power plants), which will cost about 1 trillion yen. He also questioned the policy guideline, the Basic Energy Plan, which calls for renewable energy to be the main source of power, but “there was not much talk about renewable energy.
 The meeting ended in two hours, 30 minutes earlier than scheduled. The executives of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, who had been looking at each other sternly, left the meeting room looking relaxed and chatting with the committee members. (The meeting ended 30 minutes early.)

December 19, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

No nuclear power plant in the world has been in operation for more than 60 years. Troubles continue to occur

Beznau nuclear power plant in northern Switzerland in 2012, after 53 years of operation.

December 9, 2022

The draft action guidelines for the utilization of nuclear power plants, which were discussed at the METI’s experts’ meeting on December 8, would maintain the current restriction on the operating period and allow operation beyond the “maximum 60 years,” with a view to eliminating the limit in the future. However, there is not a single example in the world of a nuclear power plant that has operated for more than 60 years. In Japan, there has been a string of troubles due to equipment deterioration, and the Nuclear Regulation Authority is having a hard time regulating this “unexplored area. (The Nuclear Regulation Authority of Japan is having a hard time regulating this “unexplored area.)

A thin piece of iron rust (triangle in the center) stuck in a pipe (bottom right) inside the steam generator at the Takahama Unit 4 nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture (courtesy of Kansai Electric Power Co.).

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the longest operating period of a nuclear power plant in the world, including those that have already been decommissioned, is 53 years and one month for India’s Tarapur reactors Nos. 1 and 2. All four reactors are still in operation.
Like Japan, the U.S. has a 40-year operating period, but if a plant passes a regulatory review, it can be extended for 20 years, and there is no limit to the number of extensions. In the U.K. and France, there is no upper limit to the operating period, and a review is required every 10 years.
 However, many nuclear power plants were designed and built with a 40-year service life in mind. As nuclear power plants age, maintenance and management costs become higher, and many operators are likely to choose decommissioning over long-term operation.
 Even nuclear power plants in Japan that are less than 40 years old are experiencing problems due to deterioration.
 Since 2018, KEPCO’s Takahama Units 3 and 4 (Fukui Prefecture), which have been in operation for 37 years, have experienced a series of troubles in which flakes of iron rust have accumulated in the steam generators connected to the reactors over many years of operation, hitting and damaging pipes. The problem was confirmed six times during regular inspections and recurred even after the steam generators were cleaned.
Even more serious are inspection leaks. In 2004, at Mihama Unit 3, which had been in operation for less than 30 years, a pipe that had been omitted from the inspection list and never checked became thin and broke due to age-related deterioration, spewing hot water and steam that killed five people and seriously injured six others.
 At TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station in Niigata Prefecture, it was discovered in October of this year that the piping in the turbine building of Unit 7, which was shut down shortly after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident, had not been inspected in 11 years and had developed holes due to corrosion.
 Hiromitsu Ino, professor emeritus of metallurgy and materials science at the University of Tokyo, said, “Ultrasonic inspection to check the deterioration status is difficult to measure behind the pipes. If deterioration progresses due to long-term operation, the risk of inspection leakage increases, leading to a serious accident,” he warned.
The Regulatory Commission, which examines whether or not to extend operation from the aspect of safety, has been unable to begin considering concrete measures on how to regulate nuclear power plants that are over 60 years old.
 A major hurdle is the lack of data on how reactors actually deteriorate. The way of understanding the degree of deterioration differs from that of the U.S., which is ahead of the U.S. in the examination of operation extensions. Shinsuke Yamanaka, the chairman of the committee, said at a press conference, “The period beyond 60 years is an unknown area. We need to create Japan’s own rules,” he said, acknowledging the difficulty of the study.
 While the regulations remain unclear, only the mechanism to make it possible to exceed 60 years is moving ahead. Mr. Ino emphasizes. Japan has many earthquakes and a high population density. The situation is different from other countries. Nuclear power plants should be operated for 40 years, which is the design guideline.”

December 19, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

140,000 signatures “against” extending the operational period and rebuilding nuclear power plants submitted to the government “Reducing dependence on nuclear power plants is the voice of the people.

Toshi Kamata speaks in front of approximately 140,000 signatures opposing the promotion of nuclear power plants in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on April 2.

December 2, 2022
On December 2, the “Sayonara 10 Million People Action Committee,” a citizens’ group, submitted 140,463 signatures to the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) demanding the withdrawal of the nuclear power promotion measures being considered by the Kishida administration, including the extension of the operating period of nuclear power plants, which is stipulated to be “40 years in principle and 60 years maximum,” and the reconstruction (replacement) of nuclear power plants that are scheduled to be decommissioned. The signatures were submitted to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in late October.
 The signatures had been collected by the Executive Committee since late October. On the same day, a rally was held in the National Diet building, where reportage writer Toshi Kamata, representative of the callers, said, “The people’s voice in the wake of the TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident is to reduce dependence on nuclear power as much as possible. These are angry signatures asking what they are thinking,” he explained, handing the signatures to a METI official on the spot.
 During the exchange of opinions following the submission of the signatures, participants voiced their opinions, such as “We should hold public hearings and listen to the public before reaching a conclusion,” but the METI official merely stated, “We will consider public comments at an appropriate time.
 Regarding the proposal to rebuild a nuclear power plant that has been decided to be decommissioned with a next-generation nuclear power plant, the METI side said, “Instead of decommissioning the plant, we will build one. Whether or not they will be built on the exact site has not yet been determined,” the ministry said, declining to elaborate.
 The government aims to decide on a policy to utilize nuclear power plants at the end of the year and submit a bill to amend related laws to the Diet next year. (Nozomi Masui)

December 4, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , | 1 Comment

Ministry’s action plan drops nuclear policies set after 3/11

Local officials want new reactors to replace the two retired units at the front of Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.

November 29, 2022

The industry ministry proposed building new nuclear reactors to replace retired ones and effectively extending their operating lives beyond 60 years, a reversal of policies set after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The proposals were presented to the ministry’s advisory council, the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee, at a meeting on Nov. 28 as a draft action plan for the Kishida administration’s slogan to “make maximum use of nuclear energy.”

Although many subcommittee members endorsed the proposals, some members said not enough time was spent on discussing such a major change in energy policy.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in August issued a directive to a special government panel tasked with decarbonizing Japan to review the current nuclear energy policy.

The government has maintained that “for now,” it does not expect construction of new nuclear plants or a replacement of any reactor.

Because of opposition expected from local governments, the plan also did not propose building nuclear plants in areas that have never hosted such facilities or adding new reactors to existing plants.

But under the action plan, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry states that construction of new reactors “will begin with those replacing retired ones,” giving utilities the green light to build reactors to take the place of those being decommissioned.

The ministry is also seeking “advanced light water reactors” as replacement units, expecting them to start operating in the 2030s. They will each come with an estimated price tag of at least 500 billion yen ($3.57 billion). 

Such reactors have enhanced safety features and are an extension of current nuclear technologies, the ministry said.

The action plan also pushes for a system that will effectively extend the life cycle of reactors beyond the maximum of 60 years set under rules adopted after the 2011 triple meltdown.

It suggests that often lengthy periods when reactors are offline for examinations by the Nuclear Regulation Authority on whether they meet standards for restarts be excluded from the 60-year limit.

In addition, the time frame should not include periods when reactor operations are suspended because of lawsuits, the ministry said.

Under those proposals, a reactor that has been idle for 10 years for those reasons could operate for up to 70 years since it first went into service.

The proposed exclusions from the 60-year limit have been criticized as “taking the teeth from” the rigorous reactor regulations set in 2013.

One subcommittee member said the exclusions are “akin to ditching the lessons learned from the Fukushima accident.”

The action plan also called for a new system to provide grants to local governments that promote the use of recycled nuclear fuel at facilities in their jurisdictions.

This is meant to give some leverage to the nation’s trouble-plagued nuclear fuel cycle policy.

Although the action plan represents a sweeping policy change, it does not directly deal with a slew of challenges that have remained unsolved for decades.

For example, it is unclear when the nuclear fuel reprocessing plant under construction in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, a key component in the nuclear fuel cycle program, will go into operations.

Under the program, plutonium retrieved from spent nuclear fuel from across Japan will be recycled as fuel for use at nuclear plants.

The completion date of the reprocessing plant has been pushed back 26 times so far. Around 14 trillion yen has been invested in the project.

Another big headache for the central government is securing a final disposal site for highly radioactive nuclear waste from nuclear power plants across the country.

Two small municipalities in Hokkaido have shown an interest in hosting such a storage facility in exchange for generous grants.

But the Hokkaido governor is opposed to the plan. And no other local governments in Japan have come forward as potential final disposal sites.

The ministry’s action plan did not list any specific proposals to resolve these issues. It merely said: “The state should bolster efforts to gain the understanding” of the public to the nuclear policy.

December 4, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan studies plan to extend life of 60-year-old nuclear plants

The No. 3 unit at the Mihama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, the first reactor in Japan to operate beyond the 40-year service period. The No. 1 and No. 2 units of the plant will be decommissioned.

Nov 28, 2022

Japan will consider keeping some nuclear reactors operating beyond a current 60-year limit as the country focuses increasingly on atomic power as a solution to an ongoing squeeze on energy supply.

Officials are studying a plan to exclude periods when reactors were offline from an existing limit on their lifespan, which would allow some facilities to operate for longer, according to a document released Monday by a trade ministry panel. Reactors are often halted for years to allow the nation’s nuclear watchdog to perform inspections, or as a result of legal challenges.

Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, Japan introduced stricter safety standards limiting the operation of nuclear reactors to 40 years in principle.

But operation for an additional 20 years is possible if safety upgrades are made and a reactor passes screening by regulators.

The proposal to allow operations beyond the 60-year limit comes as Japan’s public and government shift back in favor of nuclear power, despite experiencing one of the worst atomic meltdown disasters. The import-dependent country has this year grappled with more expensive fossil fuel prices as a result of Russia’s war in Ukraine, along with a weak yen, and seen its stretched power grid put under severe pressure.

The government has repeatedly asked people to take steps to limit their electricity consumption, by using fewer appliances or cutting back on heating.

In August, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government will explore developing and constructing new reactors, and that it will also aim to restart seven more idled reactors from next summer.

The trade ministry proposals also call for new, next-generation nuclear reactors to be built at sites where existing units will be decommissioned.

Japanese manufacturers have announced plans to develop next-generation reactors this year. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries is jointly developing an advanced light water reactor with four other Japanese power producers, while a venture between Hitachi and General Electric is also reported to be developing a new reactor model.

December 4, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , | 1 Comment

Expert panel full of proponents of nuclear power plants to discuss direction on March 28th, extending operation period and developing next-generation models, rushing to conclusion on “Prime Minister’s directive.

Basic policy subcommittee discusses extending the operational period of nuclear power plants in Kasumigaseki, Tokyo.

November 27, 2022
The Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) will present its direction on measures to utilize nuclear power plants, including the extension of the operating period of nuclear power plants, which is stipulated as “40 years in principle, with a maximum of 60 years,” and the development and construction of next-generation nuclear power plants, at the “Nuclear Energy Subcommittee,” a meeting of experts on November 28. Discussions will reach their final stage about three months after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered the committee to study the issue in August. However, the committee did not solicit opinions from the public before reaching a conclusion, and its deliberations were noticeably more hasty than past energy policy debates. (The discussion has been held in a very slow pace compared to past energy policy debates.)
◆Draft government policy at several subcommittee meetings
Of the 21 members of the Atomic Energy Subcommittee, which discusses nuclear energy policy, only two, including Hajime Matsukubo, executive director of the NPO Nuclear Data and Information Office, have made negative statements about nuclear power at recent meetings. In the discussion on extending the operating period, many committee members called for removing the maximum 60-year limit, and at the meeting on March 28, METI is expected to push for a proposal to exclude from the number of years of operation the period during which a nuclear power plant is shut down to undergo a review before it can be restarted, without removing the limit in consideration of public outcry.
 The contents of the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee’s deliberations will be discussed by the Basic Policy Subcommittee, which brings together expert panels on energy policy, and the conclusions of the subcommittee will serve as a draft of the government policy.
 At the meeting on March 15, Ms. Chisato Murakami, an advisor on consumer affairs, commented, “The use of nuclear power plants will not directly lead to an end to the tight power supply and demand situation. I would like to propose that we take time to deepen the national debate.” She objected to the way the discussion was proceeding, but no other opinions were expressed calling for a reconsideration.
The subcommittee has met twice so far. The committee is expected to hold one or two more meetings before the end of the year to reach a conclusion, after which public comments will be sought.
◆Energy Basic Plan to be discussed 17 times and opinions solicited via the Internet
 The previous energy policy discussions were different.
In the discussion of the “Sixth Basic Energy Plan,” a medium- to long-term guideline for energy policy formulated last October, subcommittee meetings were held 17 times over a period of 10 months. In addition, an opinion box was set up on the website during the discussions in order to listen to the opinions of the public at large. The opinions received were submitted as materials to each of the subcommittee meetings for consideration. In total, about 640 opinions were collected, with about 300 calling for a nuclear power phase-out, while about 80 supported the promotion of nuclear power.
 At that time, members of the subcommittee expressed the opinion that extending the operational period of nuclear power plants and building new plants were necessary to realize a decarbonized society by 2050, but this was not explicitly stated in the basic plan. The policy of “reducing dependence on nuclear power plants as much as possible,” which came to be stated after the Fukushima accident, was also maintained.
◆Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) official: “The directive to reach a conclusion by the end of the year cannot take too much time.
 The government has been stressing the use of nuclear power plants against the backdrop of the recent tight power supply and demand and soaring fuel prices. However, the development of next-generation nuclear power plants, for example, will take a long time and will not be a quick fix, so there is no need to reach a hasty conclusion. Even after Murakami pointed out this contradiction at the subcommittee meeting, a METI official told the interviewer, “We cannot take too much time because [Prime Minister Kishida] has instructed us to reach a conclusion by the end of the year. We will come up with a direction as soon as possible.
 Mr. Matsukubo commented, “This is a heavy-handed way of proceeding, not listening to the public and having the Council of Eminent Persons decide what the government wants to do. The government’s policy of making nuclear power a given may narrow the scope for the introduction of renewable energies in the future.

December 4, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Machinery manufacturer Nippon Steel Works subsidiary confirms 449 cases of fraud, including falsification of inspection resultsNippon Steel Works subsidiary confirms 449 cases of fraud, including falsification of inspection results

Machinery manufacturer Japan Steel Works announced that its subsidiary in Muroran, Hokkaido, Japan, repeatedly falsified or fabricated the inspection results of its products, and that a total of 449 irregularities were identified. These included products for nuclear power plants.

November 14, 2022

Machinery manufacturer Nippon Steel Works, Ltd. announced that its subsidiary in Muroran City, Hokkaido, Japan, has repeatedly falsified or fabricated inspection results for its products, and that a total of 449 cases of fraud have been confirmed. The company apologizes and says it will consider disciplinary action against those involved.

After an internal report uncovered irregularities in the rewriting of inspection data for parts at Muroran-based subsidiary Nippon Steel M&E, Nippon Steel established a special investigation committee made up of outside lawyers in May of this year, and has been conducting an investigation.

The company released a report summarizing the results of the investigation on April 14, stating that 449 cases of falsification and fabrication were confirmed.

The subsidiary is a major manufacturer of products used in nuclear power plants, and 20 of the fraudulent products were related to nuclear power plants.

In addition, the company has stated that none of the products involved are used in Japan for nuclear power plants.

The report also pointed out the causes of the irregularities, including a dysfunctional management system and a lack of awareness of compliance.
President Matsuo said, “We are deeply sorry for the inappropriate behavior in nuclear power products.
In response to the investigation report, Toshio Matsuo, president of Nippon Steel Corporation, issued a comment saying, “I would like to express my deepest apologies again for the inconvenience and concern we have caused you.

The report also stated, “We take the fact of the failure of the self-cleansing function and the recommendations of the special investigation committee very seriously and sincerely, and we will work to reform our systems and culture to prevent recurrence and restore confidence in our company. We are committed to reforming our systems and culture to prevent recurrence and restore trust in our company.

November 20, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

Japan looks to finalize nuclear reactor service extension by year-end

This Feb. 13, 2021 photo taken from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter shows the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefectur

November 8, 2022

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japan’s industry ministry is considering extending the lifespan of nuclear reactors to beyond the current 60 years with ambitions to finalize the plan by the end of the year, in a bid to cut carbon emissions and ensure stable energy supplies threatened by Russia’s war in Ukraine, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is looking to extend the number of years nuclear power stations can remain open by considering screening periods, necessary for stricter plant safety operations, as separate from the total service life, which could allow nuclear reactors to operate for longer. During safety checks, the nuclear plants are not operational.

A ministry panel is set to discuss extending the service life of the nuclear power stations in such a way as a main scenario among other options, with plans to finalize their decision by the end of the year, the sources said.

Under the current safety rules, the Nuclear Regulation Authority limits nuclear reactors’ service period to 40 years in principle. If approved by the regulatory body however, the period can be extended by up to 20 years.

The panel will also look at scrapping the 60-year lifespan, as well as maintaining the current rules as two alternative options, in case the proposal is found not to be viable.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in August that Japan will push ahead with the use of nuclear power, citing the plan as an option to achieve net-zero emissions and secure a stable electricity supply.

Japan relies heavily on fossil fuel imports for power generation, with its energy self-sufficiency rate standing at 12.1 percent as of fiscal 2019, lower than many other developed countries.

Nuclear power plant operators must pass the tougher regulations to restart their reactors after a nationwide halt which occurred after the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 11, 2011, which was caused by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Only a handful of reactors in Japan have since resumed operations, while the public remains concerned over their safety.

Some utilities face prolonged screening processes by the NRA. More than nine years have passed since the safety examinations of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomari nuclear power plant began, for example.

The electric power industry has urged more than 60 years of service will be safe provided appropriate maintenance operations are guaranteed.

The safety watchdog proposed earlier this month that the safety of nuclear plants aged 30 years or older, regardless of whether a reactor lifespan is extended, be checked at least once a decade to obtain approval for their continued operation.

November 11, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , | Leave a comment

NRA risks losing its reputation as neutral nuclear watchdog body

Members of the Nuclear Regulation Authority hold a meeting Nov. 2 in Tokyo’s Minato Ward.

November 5, 2022

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has started working on legal revisions to effectively eliminate the limit on the operational life span of nuclear reactors.

The NRA appears to be responding to growing calls for the “revival” of nuclear power generation within the government and the business community. The NRA was set up as a highly independent nuclear safety watchdog in line with lessons gleaned from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. It should not forget its original mission.

The legal life span of a nuclear reactor is 40 years in principle but can be extended to 60 years at a maximum.

But the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), acting at Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s behest, has proposed increasing the life span of reactors. Acting in tandem with the government’s move, the NRA instructed its Secretariat, a government agency, to review the current rules.

In a recent meeting on this issue, the NRA Secretariat presented a proposal which would require reactors that have been in service for 30 years to undergo inspections for signs of degradation at intervals of 10 years or less to win permission for continued operation. As long as they keep passing these periodical inspections, they can run beyond the 60-year limit.

The NRA is expected to work out, possibly by the end of the year, an outline of a draft revision of the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law for the extended operations of nuclear plants.

The 40-year cap was a rule established under a bipartisan agreement reached through Diet debate that focused on the bitter lessons from the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011. This rule, along with the suspension of new construction and expansion of nuclear power plants, played an important role in reducing the nation’s dependence on atomic energy, a policy goal adopted by the government. The rule must not be changed without national debate after only 10 years.

The NRA argues that whether to extend the legal life of reactors is a policy decision concerning the use of nuclear power that is outside its mandate. That means the NRA’s mandate is to ensure proper regulations of nuclear power generation according to the government’s policy.

At a glance, this position appears to be based on the principle of the separation of nuclear safety regulation from the government’s policy to promote nuclear power generation. But it is, in effect, regulation in line with promotion.

Nuclear power plants inevitably wear down over time. There are many plant parts that were not designed to be replaced. As the initial design philosophy for reactors has become outdated, the risk of unexpected problems and malfunctions increases. The 40-year rule was partly aimed at avoiding such unclear and unpredictable risks.

Extended life spans will inevitably increase the burden of inspections and raise the cost of electricity generated by aging reactors due to costs incurred by taking the necessary measures to pass inspections. This also raises questions about whether extended operations of reactors will make economic sense.

The NRA claims the regulations for reactors that have run for 30 years or longer would become “far more rigorous than now” under the proposed change. Some NRA experts have said the new system should make it harder for older reactors to pass inspections. Others have pointed out the importance of responding to the risks posed by natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunami and volcanic eruptions.

But the specifics of the new regulations and operational rules remain unclear. The ongoing policy debate on the issue, clearly driven by arguments for promoting nuclear power, raises doubts about whether the government could develop a new regulatory system that can win the support of the residents and administrations of host communities and the public as a whole.

To prevent another nuclear tragedy, it is vital for the NRA to remain solidly committed to maintaining its independence. Serious doubt about its independence would deliver a huge blow to its credibility with society.

If its independence is undermined, the NRA might be unable to resist future political pressure for relaxing the safety regulations or safety inspections of aged and risky reactors.

The NRA must realize that the situation poses a critical test of its commitment to its core mission as the nuclear safety watchdog.

November 7, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , , , | Leave a comment

Magnitude 5 earthquake jolts Fukushima; ‘no issues’ at nearby nuclear plants

‘No issues’ at nearby nuclear plants…. So they claim as usual, everything is always fine in Fukushima Daiichi….

The epicenter of the earthquake that occurred on Oct. 21 at 3:19 p.m. is located in Fukushima offshore

Oct 21, 2022

A strong earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 5 jolted northeastern Japan on Friday afternoon.

The quake, which was revised downward from magnitude 5.1, occurred at a depth of about 30 kilometers off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture around 3:19 p.m., according to the Meteorological Agency.

The quake measured a lower 5 on Japan’s seismic intensity scale to 7 in the town of Naraha and 4 in the towns of Hirono, Tomioka, Okuma and Futaba.

According to the Secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, no issues have been reported at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings’s Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear plants in the prefecture.

The No. 2 plant straddles Naraha and Tomioka, while the No. 1 plant, the site of the 2011 meltdowns following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, straddles Okuma and Futaba.

In a location close to the epicenter of Friday’s quake, a 7.4-magnitude temblor occurred at the depth of about 12 kilometers on Nov. 22, 2016, causing tsunami that reached up to 144 centimeters high at Sendai Port in the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi.

Unlike the 2016 temblor, which also registered up to lower 5 on the Japanese scale, Friday’s quake did not cause tsunami because it occurred at a greater depth and was smaller in scale.

October 26, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , , | Leave a comment

Editorial: Japan’s push to extend nuke reactor life past 40 yrs doesn’t add up

October 13, 2022 (Mainichi Japan)

The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has begun considering eliminating the “40-year rule,” or the principle that nuclear reactors should be decommissioned after four decades in service.

Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), which is responsible for the law enforcing the 40-year principle, has given its blessing to this new policy. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, in charge of the stable supply of electricity, will now decide how a reactor’s operating life should be determined.

The 40-year rule was introduced after the meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings (TEPCO)’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in March 2011. And since then, the idea that nuclear reactors will run for 40 years and no more has become firmly entrenched.

The rule was also Japan’s declaration that it was committed to moving away from nuclear dependence by decommissioning aging reactors one by one, reflecting upon the seriousness of the disaster.

A policy shift from the 40-year rule would require national consensus. It is unacceptable for the administration to leave legal revisions regarding safety up to the industry ministry — which spent decades promoting nuclear power — and essentially dictate a return to atomic power. It is also inconsistent with the government’s own Basic Energy Plan, which clearly states that Japan’s dependence on nuclear power will be reduced.

In August this year, Prime Minister Kishida abruptly announced a policy of building new nuclear power plants and restarting existing reactors. This was based on the belief that atomic power is indispensable for both a stable electricity supply and to decarbonize Japan’s energy system.

One obstacle to this is those existing reactors’ service time. Most of them have been in operation for 30 years, and should the 40-year rule be strictly applied, more than 10 reactors will have to be decommissioned by 2030.

The electricity sector and the industry ministry hope to extend those reactors’ operational life to save money, arguing that “40 years is just a guideline with no clear scientific basis.” However, data on accident risks at aging atomic power plants is limited. After the Fukushima Daiichi meltdowns, it was decided that 11 reactors in Japan would be decommissioned because it would cost too much to implement the safety measures needed to keep them running.

NRA head Shinsuke Yamanaka stated, “We will establish a system that enables strict regulation no matter what the operational life may be.” But is there enough knowhow, and a sufficiently robust review system, to maintain effective regulation?

Even if the rules are changed to allow nuclear reactors to stay online regardless of how long they’ve been in service, this does not guarantee that restarts will go smoothly. In addition to potential nuclear accidents, municipalities hosting the plants have deep-seated concerns about information disclosure and evacuating residents in case of a disaster.

What is needed is an energy policy that makes use of the lessons learned from Fukushima Daiichi. Forcing through political decisions without convincing the Japanese public will only stoke their distrust of nuclear power.

October 16, 2022 Posted by | Japan | , | Leave a comment

Extending legal life of nuclear reactors places safety at risk

Shinsuke Yamanaka, new chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, speaks at his inaugural news conference in Tokyo on Sept. 26.

October 7, 2022

The industry ministry’s plan to allow extending the operational life span of nuclear reactors beyond 40 years raises concerns about ensuring the safety of aging reactors.

The cap was a rule established under a bipartisan agreement reached through Diet debate that focused on the bitter lessons learned from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011. It must not be casually changed after only 10 years.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has started considering revisions to related laws to stretch the life span of reactors, which is set at 40 years, in principle.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is keen to expand the use of nuclear power, instructed the ministry in August to consider necessary steps for extending the life span, along with other measures, such as restarting more idled reactors and building new types of reactors.

The 40-year rule is one of the key elements of the new stricter safety standards introduced after the Fukushima disaster. This has also played an important role for gradually lowering the nation’s dependence on atomic energy by requiring older reactors to be mothballed.

The METI and the power industry claim extending reactor operations would help ensure stable energy supplies. They stress that the 40-year cap is not strictly a question of the technical life of the plant based on hard science.

Their arguments are deeply flawed and flimsy. They raise many questions from the standpoints of both the nation’s energy strategy and safety regulations.

To be sure, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused fossil fuel prices to soar, provoking anxiety about short-term power supplies. But changing the 40-year rule would not lead to an immediate increase in the number of operational reactors.

However, the step would put the nation on course to remain heavily dependent on nuclear power for the long term.

That is not the way for a nation that has yet to have a viable plan for the final disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear plants and is highly prone to natural disasters to try to secure the long-term stability of energy supplies.

The proposed extension could also lead to a radical change in a basic safety principle. The core guiding principle for nuclear power policy established after the Fukushima triple meltdowns requires a separation between promotion and regulation.

The actions of the METI, a champion of nuclear power promotion, to lead a policy initiative to change nuclear safety rules is tantamount to bringing the safety regime back to the pre-Fukushima era.

The stance of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), the nuclear safety watchdog, is also baffling.

The NRA did not take exception to the METI’s plan. It said it is not in a position to comment on whether an extension of the life span of reactors should be allowed because it is a policy decision concerning the way nuclear power is used.

Although the NRA insists that it will rigorously scrutinize and assess the safety of aging reactors individually, it is doubtful whether the regulator will be able to confirm their safety.

Limiting the life of reactors is closely linked to ensuring safety.

During the 2012 Diet deliberations on the legal revisions to set the 40-year rule, the minister in charge of nuclear power policy cited the estimated useful life of equipment used as a key factor behind the 40-year limit.

If the NRA fails to discuss the validity of the 40-year rule based on technical evaluations and simply endorses the proposal as a policy decision concerning the use of nuclear power, it is neglecting its duty as an independent regulatory entity.

Such a sneaky change in the rules will chip away at the effectiveness of the nuclear safety regulations. Both the METI and the NRA should change their stances toward the issue.

October 8, 2022 Posted by | Fuk 2022 | , | Leave a comment