December 18, 2014
Six tons of tainted water leak at Fukushima No. 1 during Korean safety tour
December 18, 2014
December 18, 2014
The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) concluded on Dec. 17 that the No. 3 and 4 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Takahama Nuclear Power Plant have met its new safety requirements, clearing one of the hurdles to restarting the idled facilities.
The government, meanwhile, is poised to start discussing the reconstruction of aging nuclear power stations. Although the ruling parties won a solid majority in the Dec. 14 House of Representatives election, it cannot be said that they have secured a free hand over the country's nuclear energy policy, which was not fully debated during the election. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made clear its stance toward "returning to nuclear power," but it remains to be seen whether the government will be able to secure public understanding for continued reliance on nuclear power by restarting idled reactors and rebuilding aging nuclear power plants.
Following the NRA's decision on the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture, a senior Kansai Electric official said, "If the Takahama reactors are reactivated, we'll be able to focus on measures to restart the No. 3 and 4 reactors at our Oi Nuclear Power Plant."
Safety requirements for nuclear reactors were tightened after the Fukushima disaster. Earlier, two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. also passed the requirements. These developments are favorable for other major utilities because idled nuclear reactors in the country appear to be on track to being restarted.
Some Kansai region manufacturers have shifted their manufacturing bases elsewhere because of higher electricity prices and an unstable power supply during the summer, caused by the shutdown of nuclear power plants. The business community is now hopeful that those companies will bring their factories back to the Kansai region, because their power supply will become stable if nuclear reactors go back online
Fuel costs shouldered by power companies across Japan to operate their thermal power plants have increased about 3.6 trillion yen from pre-disaster levels. Financially strained, these companies have introduced full-scale price hikes. At the same time, increasing crude oil prices have pushed up electricity prices further, forcing businesses and households to shoulder the extra burden.
Those factors have played a part in the Abe government's move to promote nuclear power. If electricity prices remain high, they will get in the way of economic recovery, though the Abe administration has set forth corporate tax cuts as a key policy measure for economic growth in his economic policy mix, dubbed "Abenomics." The government is set to accelerate efforts to reactivate 21 reactors at 14 nuclear power stations across the country, but it will not stop there. It is also trying to shift its policy focus to the idea of continuing to rely on nuclear power by rebuilding aging nuclear power stations.
Under the Basic Energy Plan adopted by the Cabinet in April, the government set forth a plan to promote reactivation of idled nuclear reactors. At the same time, it said that it would "reduce (its reliance on nuclear power) as much as possible." The government, therefore, postponed its decision on the best possible composition of different energy sources, including nuclear, thermal and renewable energy.
If the government were to prohibit construction of additional nuclear plants and the rebuilding of existing nuclear facilities, and if it did not extend reactors' designated 40-year lifespan, Japan's nuclear generating capacity would be halved by 2030 and there would be no nuclear plants in the country by 2049. The government's discussions on the best possible composition of various energy sources will focus either on the "natural death" of nuclear plants, or continued reliance on nuclear power.
Nuclear power plants play a certain role in combating global warning. Considering the fact that it will take a long time to decommission nuclear power plants and process radioactive waste, it is necessary to nurture nuclear engineers. Local governments that host nuclear power plants are seeking new financial resources because they will not receive government subsidies and fixed property tax revenues if nuclear power plants are decommissioned. Based on these ideas, the government has opted for a policy of retaining nuclear power generation by rebuilding aging nuclear power stations.
Nonetheless, the costs of rebuilding and running nuclear power plants are expected to swell as a result of anti-disaster measures and extra expenses to improve safety. It costs several hundred billion yen to build a single nuclear power plant, and it takes time to recover the costs for such an investment. While deregulation of the electric power industry moves forward, a representative of one utility commented, "If we were to continue to run nuclear power plants, we would want a guarantee for stable electricity charges." However, it is difficult for utilities to secure public understanding for receiving special treatment for building and running nuclear power stations.
There was no in-depth debate on nuclear power during the Dec. 14 general election. If the government were to press forward and promote nuclear power with no debate, it would likely provoke a fierce public backlash. (By Masahiro Nakai and Shinya Hamanaka, Economic News Department)
December 18, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
December 17, 2014
J-Power has filed with the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) for a safety inspection of the Oma Nuclear Power Plant it is building in Oma, Aomori Prefecture, in preparation to begin its operations. The company is aiming to complete the construction of the power station in December 2020.
It is the first time that an application has been filed with the NRA for a safety inspection of a nuclear plant under construction. If approved, it can be operated for up to 40 years under the government's policy. However, if J-Power is to be allowed to operate the plant over such a long period, it would run counter to the government's policy of phasing out atomic power.
The government has promoted the nuclear fuel cycle project, in which all spent nuclear fuel is reprocessed and plutonium extracted from such fuel is used at atomic power stations.
The Oma plant will play a key part in the nuclear fuel cycle project since its reactors are the world's first commercial reactors that only use mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel of uranium and plutonium.
The construction of the plant started in May 2008 when then Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda was in power. The work was suspended following the outbreak of the crisis at the tsunami-ravaged Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, but was resumed in October 2012 under the administration of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. To meet the new safety standards set by the NRA, J-Power reviewed its estimation of the maximum shaking of a powerful earthquake that could hit the plant and the maximum height of tsunami waves. It will cost the company approximately 130 billion yen to take additional steps to protect the power station from such huge disasters.
However, experts have pointed out some problems involving MOX fuel reactors, such as the control rods function less efficiently in such reactors than conventional reactors.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka says, "We'll cautiously evaluate the safety of the Oma plant because its MOX fuel reactors are unprecedented in the world." It is only natural for the NRA to strictly inspect the power station.
In the first place, the nuclear fuel cycle project itself faces various challenges from an aspect of technology, safety and costs.
The development of fast-breeder reactors to facilitate the efficient use of plutonium is deadlocked because the prototype reactor "Monju" has developed many problems and there was misconduct including a failure to inspect some of the reactor's devices. Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. has repeatedly postponed the start of operations at its nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, and the NRA is still conducting a safety inspection on the plant. It is more difficult to treat spent MOX fuel than conventional uranium fuel. If spent MOX fuel is to be reprocessed, a specialized plant would need to be built apart from the Rokkasho plant. However, little progress has been made on debate on the issue.
The Hakodate Municipal Government in Hokkaido, situated just across the Tsugaru Strait, has filed a lawsuit against J-Power and the national government, demanding that the construction of the plant be banned. Part of Hakodate falls within 30 kilometers from the Oma plant, and is therefore required to work out an evacuation plan to prepare for a serious accident at the power station. The municipal government insists that the ongoing construction of new nuclear power plants and the start of construction of planned atomic power stations be indefinitely suspended in order not to increase the number of nuclear reactors in Japan.
Hakodate's argument is based on reflection of the Fukushima nuclear crisis and is consistent with public opinion that is cautious about restarting idled nuclear reactors.
In the campaign for the Dec. 14 House of Representatives election, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) pledged to reduce Japan's dependence on atomic power as much as possible, while its coalition partner Komeito promised to seek to completely eliminate nuclear power plants. Although it is necessary to give consideration to communities hosting atomic power stations that would be affected by a review of the government's plan on nuclear power, approval of the Oma Nuclear Power Plant apparently contradicts the ruling parties' respective pledges. The government's pledge to seek to cut down Japan's reliance on atomic power should not end up being an empty slogan.
December 17, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
Tokyo Electric Power Co. said net income will rise 19 percent this fiscal year and that it will put off an increase in electricity rates in favor of more cost cuts.
The country’s biggest electricity utility is projecting net income of ¥521 billion ($4.4 billion) from ¥438.6 billion last year. It said it will reduce costs by ¥873 billion, including job cuts, in the fiscal year ending March 31, according to a statement on Wednesday.
Tepco and other power companies are under pressure to reduce overheads as all of the nation’s 48 reactors have been shut following the Fukushima atomic disaster more than 3½ years ago. That’s forced them to import more oil, gas and coal for other power plants, causing a surge in fuel bills.
The government estimates regional power companies paid ¥3.6 trillion ($30.7 billion) more in fuel costs in fiscal 2013 compared with fiscal 2010 before Fukushima.
Even as the country’s nuclear regulator is gradually approving tougher safety standards on some reactors, Tepco’s units are not yet among them. The company is the operator of the crippled Fukushima plant.
Tepco had expected to restart two reactors at its Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest, as early as July this year in the turnaround plan released in January. That’s since been pushed back to July next year or later.
Restarting the Kashiwazaki plant is “essential” for the company’s business, according to the statement.
Tepco, which serves 29 million customers in Tokyo and surrounding areas, raised electricity rates for households by about 8.5 percent in September 2012.
December 17, 2014
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
With all of its reactors offline, Kansai Electric Power Co. is moving to raise household electricity rates for the second time after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to cover higher fuel costs from thermal power generation.
The utility said Dec. 17 it will apply to the industry ministry for approval to raise the household electricity rate in April after it decides on the extent of increase.
"It is a tough decision, but we have no other choice," Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi told a news conference.
The company is expected to post a fourth consecutive loss for the year ending next March. Before the Fukushima disaster, the utility depended on nuclear power for 45 percent of the electricity it generated.
The company will also increase the rate for corporate users in April, a move that does not require government approval.
If the ministry approves the hike, Kansai Electric will be the second regional power company to increase electricity rates twice since the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Kansai Electric raised its household electricity rate in May 2013 for the first time in 33 years by an average of 9.75 percent. The increase was calculated based on the assumption that the utility's four idled nuclear reactors would be restarted after summer 2013.
Although the Nuclear Regulation Authority gave provisional safety clearance on Dec. 17 to two reactors at the company's Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, the utility decided the rate hike was necessary because of the slow progress in restarting all four reactors.
In November, Hokkaido Electric Power Co. raised household electricity rates by an average of 15.33 percent, its second rate increase since the disaster.
December 17, 2014
Dec. 17, 2014 - Updated 13:30 UTC+1
South Korean experts have visited the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant to study the possible resumption of seafood imports from Fukushima and other prefectures.
The 7 experts toured the plant for about 2 hours on Wednesday. They were accompanied by officials from the Japanese government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Company.
They studied the contaminated water processing system known as ALPS and other facilities.
A Japan fisheries ministry official said he believes the tour helped show the experts that substantive measures have been taken to prevent contaminated water leaks.
South Korea banned seafood imports from Fukushima and 7 other prefectures in September of last year.
December 17, 2014
Dec. 17, 2014 - Updated 09:00 UTC+1
Work to remove debris from the March 2011 tsunami has begun along the coast of Futaba Town in Japan's Fukushima Prefecture. An evacuation order is still in place for the town since the accident there at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.
Japan's government is responsible for removing the debris.
On Wednesday morning, government-appointed workers began clearing the roughly 200-hectare area. They loaded driftwood and housing material onto trucks using construction machinery, and took it to a provisional storage site.
The Environment Ministry estimates the amount of debris in the area at 5,500 tons. The area is designated for preparation for the lifting of the evacuation order, where radiation levels there are relatively low.
Removal of the debris would enable decontamination work and hopefully speed up the area's reconstruction.
FUKUSHIMA – Workers started clearing debris on Wednesday in some parts of Futaba near the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, nearly four years after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the nuclear crisis.
Fukushima Prefecture town is in the evacuation zone around the crippled nuclear plant.
The Environment Ministry plans to remove 13,000 tons of debris by March 2016 in areas designated to prepare for the lifting of the evacuation order. No such plan is in place for other areas of the town due to higher radiation levels.
After a silent tribute to victims of the disaster, ministry officials and other people launched the operation using heavy machinery in the Morotake area.
“At last, Futaba town’s reconstruction begins,” said Rokuro Saito, 77, a community leader in Morotake.
Saito has been living in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, in the wake of the disaster.
December 17, 2014
By TOSHIO KAWADA/ Staff Writer
TAKAHAMA, Fukui Prefecture--Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama plant here became the second nuclear power facility to receive the virtual go-ahead to resume operations under tougher safety requirements introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Dec. 17 said it concluded that the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant have met the safety standards required to prepare for natural disasters and severe accidents.
The NRA’s decision will be finalized after it receives public opinions on the issue for 30 days starting Dec. 18.
However, Kansai Electric must first gain the consent of local officials and residents to restart the reactors.
In addition, the NRA still needs to check the detailed construction plans and blueprints for the Takahama plant, as well as safety guidelines on how Kansai Electric will operate the reactors and respond to an accident.
An additional one to two months will also be necessary for the NRA to conduct on-site inspections.
If no problems arise, Kansai Electric will likely be able to resume operations at the plant next spring at the earliest.
“There still remains screenings of the construction plans and safety rules to restart the reactors, so we will continue to sincerely respond to the NRA’s examination,” Kansai Electric President Makoto Yagi said at a news conference on Dec. 17.
Kansai Electric is also proceeding with a special safety inspection to extend the operating lives of the aging No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of the Takahama plant for two decades beyond the normal expiry date of 40 years.
Under the stricter safety standards, utilities must have quake-resistant buildings for emergency operations in the event of damage caused by a natural disaster.
Kansai Electric listed the buildings for the two aging reactors as emergency operation centers, but it is currently constructing separate buildings for emergency purposes at the Takahama plant site.
The NRA is requiring the company to keep those two reactors shut down for the time being. The nuclear watchdog could rescreen the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors if Kansai Electric hopes to restart the aging reactors at an early date.
The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving toward restarting now-idled reactors that are deemed safe by the NRA. Currently, no reactors are operating in Japan.
The first nuclear plant expected to resume operations is Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture. The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors there passed the NRA’s safety screenings in line with the stricter regulations.
The results of the NRA’s examination of the Sendai plant reactors were released in July.
The nuclear watchdog referred to its examination of the Sendai plant to work out its 433-page draft report that virtually allows Kansai Electric to resume operations at the Takahama plant.
Kansai Electric submitted its application to restart the Takahama No. 3 and No. 4 reactors when the new safety regulations took effect in July 2013.
It plans to use the reactors for plutonium-thermal power generation, in which mixed-oxide fuel consisting of plutonium and uranium is used.
The Takahama plant is located just 3.5 meters above sea level, much lower compared with the Sendai plant. Kansai Electric was required to raise the height of surrounding levees to block tsunami.
Kansai Electric initially projected a maximum tsunami height at the Takahama plant of 2.6 meters. It revised the estimate to 6.2 meters after the NRA ordered the company to recheck its calculations.
The utility was also advised to increase its projected earthquake scale from 550 gals to 700 gals and enhance the quake-resistance of plant equipment. A gal is a unit of acceleration that measures the extent of an earthquake’s seismic waves.
The next step for Kansai Electric is to win the approval of Fukui Prefecture and Takahama town to restart the reactors.
“We will work to restart operations as early as possible by making efforts to obtain an agreement from people living in the surrounding areas,” Yagi said.
Areas of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures located within a 30-kilometer radius of the Takahama plant have maintained a cautious stance toward resuming reactor operations there.
Areas within 30 km of the plant are designated as the Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone. Local administrations in the zone could demand that Kansai Electric keep the reactors offline until it also gains their approval, pointing to the possible dangers to their residents.
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Two idled nuclear reactors owned by Kansai Electric Power Co. on Wednesday cleared the initial safety hurdle to being brought back online, possibly next year, bolstering the government's plan to revive atomic power following the 2011 Fukushima crisis.
The Nos. 3 and 4 units at the Takahama nuclear plant, located on the Sea of Japan coast in Fukui Prefecture, western Japan, follow two reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. in passing the nuclear regulator's tighter safety requirements, introduced after the Fukushima accident.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party, which won a major victory in Sunday's lower house election, is set to speed up efforts to reactivate nuclear plants that have remained idled amid safety concerns raised by the Fukushima meltdowns, even though the majority of people surveyed in Japan oppose resumption.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority decision-making panel approved Kansai Electric's enhanced safety measures against possible earthquake and tsunami hazards as well as other severe accidents that could affect the plant. The regulator will give a formal safety clearance to the utility after a monthlong public consultation period through Jan. 16.
NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said the regulator has confirmed the plant's compatibility with the new regulatory standards, however, he urged Kansai Electric to make continued efforts to enhance safety.
Among Japan's 48 commercial reactors -- all of which currently remain offline -- only four, including the Takahama units, have met the more rigorous safety requirements. Passing the NRA's safety screening based on the regulations is the initial requirement for resumption, with no specific date set for the restart.
The Takahama units will not go back online before spring, as Kansai Electric still needs to obtain local approval and undergo more procedures including on-site operational checks.
Power companies are desperate to bring their idled nuclear reactors back online amid an increase in fossil-fuel costs for thermal power generation, which has covered the shortfall in the absence of atomic power.
On Wednesday, Kansai Electric said it will raise electricity bills from April, citing its deteriorating earnings. The utility last raised electricity rates in May last year.
"We face a severe financial condition and if this goes on it will endanger the company's existence," President Makoto Yagi said at a press conference in Osaka.
The utility, serving an area centering on Osaka, will likely post its fourth straight group net loss in the business year through next March. In addition to the Takahama units, it also hopes to restart two more reactors at its Oi complex in Fukui.
But the process of resumption may not go as smoothly as the utility hopes, partly because neighboring municipalities such as Shiga Prefecture demand more say in deciding whether to allow the resumption, saying they could also be severely affected in the event of a nuclear accident.
A pair of reactors at Kyushu Electric's Sendai complex, located in southwestern Japan, became the first units in September to meet the new regulations. Local municipalities have already given the green light to their resumption and they could go back online early next year.
December 17, 2014(Mainichi Japan)
See also :
Two idled nuclear reactors owned by Kansai Electric Power Co. on Wednesday cleared an initial safety hurdle necessary for them to be restarted, possibly next year, bolstering the Abe government’s plan to revive atomic power following the 2011 Fukushima crisis.[…]
Dec. 17, 2014 - Updated 04:15 UTC+1
Japan's nuclear regulator has compiled its draft assessment on safety measures for 2 of the 4 reactors at Takahama nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan.
The draft effectively approves the safety measures and clears the way for the restart of the plant located on the Japan Sea coast. A draft assessment of another plant in southern Japan has already been approved.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority unanimously approved the draft on Wednesday.
The draft assessment says the No. 3 and 4 reactors now meet government regulations introduced after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in March 2011.
Kansai Electric Power Company's measures include raising the reactors' ability to withstand maximum projected jolts and tsunami heights from earthquakes. The operator also installed a higher embankment and cooling pumps to prepare for the possibility of a severe nuclear accident.
Authority commissioner Toyoshi Fuketa said the body confirmed the reactors are equipped with minimum measures to ensure safety, but the operator should continue efforts and investment for greater safety.
The authority will gather public opinion on the draft for 30 days before officially adopting the document.
The plant's operator still needs approval on details of equipment design as well as inspections. It also needs to gain local consent. The facility is unlikely to go online before spring.
Takahama will be the 2nd plant to pass the new regulations, following the Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan, in September.
All of Japan's nuclear reactors are currently offline.
December 17, 2014
Dec. 17, 2014 - Updated 10:54 UTC+1
A key point in screening the Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, was an assumption about the strongest earthquake that could hit the facility.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority has conducted 67 review meetings and 3 surveys at the plant since Kansai Electric Power Company in July 2013 filed with the NRA for the screening. The procedure is needed to restart the No. 3 and 4 reactors of the facility in Fukui Prefecture.
Kansai Electric initially submitted 550 gals as a figure for the strength of the possible quake. But the NRA rejected the figure as too optimistic.
In December 2013, the utility raised the figure to 700 gals, taking into consideration possible simultaneous movement along 3 faults in Wakasa Bay and land areas to the east.
The utility first filed as a figure for the tallest possible tsunami 2.6 meters above sea level, but later raised it to 5.7 meters. But the firm had miscalculated the duration of possible seafloor landslides, and again raised the figure, to 6.2 meters.
After the revisions, Kansai Electric decided to increase the height of a tsunami breakwater from an initially planned 6 meters to 8.
The firm installed more equipment as required by new regulations in case of a serious accident. It installed pumps for cooling reactors and containment vessels, and devices to prevent hydrogen explosions. Such blasts occurred in the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.
Instructions for responding to accidents at the plant are thousands of pages. They cover steps to manually open valves of pumps for cooling reactors in case of complete power outages. This is based on lessons from the Fukushima Daiichi accident.
December 17, 2014
By TATSUYUKI KOBORI/ Staff Writer.
TAKAHAMA, Fukui Prefecture--Kansai Electric Power Co. showed progress in its plans to extend the operating lives of two aging reactors well beyond the normal expiry date of 40 years.
Reporters on Dec. 16 were allowed to tour the premises of the Takahama nuclear power plant here, which is currently undergoing a special safety inspection required to keep the plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors in service.
Although the acceptable operational term of nuclear reactors is basically set at 40 years, the Abe administration allows utilities to apply for an extension of the period by up to 20 years on a one-time basis.
Kansai Electric is the first utility to conduct safety checks toward that goal. The inspection is expected to take three to four months, Kansai Electric officials said.
The Takahama plant’s No. 1 reactor turned 40 years old this year. The No. 2 reactor will exceed four decades of operation in 2015.
After assessing the necessity for additional repair work and other factors, Kansai Electric will apply to the Nuclear Regulation Authority as early as next spring to prolong the operation of the two reactors by two decades.
Kansai Electric on Dec. 16 showed reporters a remote-controlled robot examining welded sections in part of the No. 1 reactor filled with water. A worker was also seen checking for cracks in the surface coating on walls of the No. 1 reactor containment vessel.
The company also showed a 5-centimeter-deep hole with a diameter of 3 cm in a concrete wall of the reactor building that is used to assess the condition of inside reinforcing steel.