Japan’s Kansai Electric to shut down 2 major nuclear reactors — Nikkei Asian Review

” OSAKA — Kansai Electric Power Co. has decided to close two large, aging nuclear reactors at a power plant in Fukui Prefecture in light of rising safety costs that make restarting such facilities financially untenable.

The Oi plant’s Nos. 1 and 2 reactors each have an output capacity of 1.18 million kW, making them Japan’s largest to be decommissioned aside from Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holding’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi reactors. Both started operating in 1979. The Osaka-based utility is in talks with Fukui local governments and other parties to make a final decision before winter.

Following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that caused the Fukushima catastrophe, Japan limited nuclear plants’ operating lifespan to four decades as a general rule. That period can be extended to a maximum of 60 years with the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s approval, but that requires safety investments to the tune of 100 billion yen ($894 million).

Previously, energy companies generally aimed to extend the lifespan of old plants with generation capacities of millions of kilowatts. But with safety costs climbing and energy demand stagnating, turning a profit has grown difficult even at large-scale facilities.

Kansai Electric had already decided to decommission two smaller reactors at its Mihama plant, also in Fukui. Those were among Japan’s six reactors — not including Fukushima Daiichi — with approval to shut down, all with output capacities in the 300,000 kW to 500,000 kW range.

Restarting a planned seven reactors is projected to cost Kansai Electric about 830 billion yen for safety measures. Adding the Oi pair would push the total over 1 trillion yen. Decommissioning a plant takes about 30 years and costs tens of billions of yen, but it is still cheaper than restarting it.

The power company sold around one-fifth less energy in fiscal 2016 than it did in fiscal 2010, as Japanese society grew more energy-conscious following the 2011 disaster and the liberalization of energy retail that led to a loss of customers. Shutting down the two Oi reactors and others will cut the Osaka utility’s generating capacity by around 10%, but with demand also cooling, the reduction is not expected to crimp supply.

Nuclear power now contributes less than 10% of Japan’s energy, down from about 30% before Fukushima. The government’s current plan calls for nuclear power to make up about 20-22% of the total in 2030, far above the present scale.

Japan idled its nuclear plants to make them compliant with tougher safety standards after Fukushima. At present, just five are back online, operated by Kansai Electric, Kyushu Electric Power and Shikoku Electric Power. The government’s target would require having around 30 plants running. But many are more than three decades old, and so will soon either need to be turned off or seek an extension.

If profit concerns force more power companies to go the Osaka utility’s route, Japan’s proportion of nuclear power will remain low, complicating the government’s plan. ”

by Nikkei Asian Review

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Japan decides to scrap trouble-plagued Monju prototype reactor — Nikkei Asian Review

” TOKYO (Kyodo) — The Japanese government formally decided Wednesday to decommission the Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor in western Japan’s Fukui Prefecture, which has barely operated over the past two decades despite its envisioned key role in the country’s nuclear fuel recycling policy.

The decision in a ministerial meeting Wednesday, concluding a process that has included discussion of Japan’s overall fast-reactor development policy by a government panel, comes despite failure to obtain local support for the plan.

The government has invested more than 1 trillion yen ($8.5 billion) in research and development for the reactor, having originally hoped it would serve as a linchpin of nuclear fuel recycling efforts as it was designed to produce more plutonium than it consumes while generating electricity.

With resource-poor Japan relying on uranium imports to power its conventional reactors, the government will continue to develop fast reactors in pursuit of a nuclear fuel cycle in which Japan seeks to reprocess spent fuel and reuse plutonium and uranium, extracted through reprocessing.

But Monju’s fate is sure to prompt further public scrutiny of the fuel cycle policy, with many nuclear reactors left idled after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster. The public also remains wary of nuclear power generation after the disaster.

With the facility’s decommissioning, and the accompanying loss of jobs and subsidies, the central government also risks damaging its rapport with Fukui, which hosts a number of other currently shuttered nuclear plants along the Sea of Japan coast.

The government has calculated it will cost at least 375 billion yen over 30 years to fully decommission Monju. It plans to remove the spent nuclear fuel from the reactor by 2022 and finish dismantling the facility in 2047.

Monju achieved sustained nuclear reactions, technically called criticality, in 1994. But it experienced a series of problems including a leakage of sodium coolant the following year and has been largely mothballed for the subsequent two decades.

Restarting operations at the plant would have cost at least 540 billion yen, according to government forecasts.

“We will decommission Monju given that it would take a considerable amount of time and expense to resume its operations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told Wednesday’s meeting.

“The nuclear fuel cycle is at the core of our energy policy,” Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko told reporters after the meeting. His ministry will take over from the science ministry in overseeing the development of more practical fast reactors.

“We will make full use of the highly valuable knowledge and expertise acquired at Monju as we move forward with fast reactor development…first by concentrating on creating a strategic roadmap,” Seko said.

Earlier Wednesday, the central government held a consultation meeting with Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa, who told reporters afterward that he remains opposed to the scrapping of the facility.

Nishikawa said in the meeting that decommissioning cannot begin without the approval of both the prefecture and the city of Tsuruga, where Monju is based.

“The governor told us today…that he wants a more thorough explanation of the specific mechanisms by which decommissioning will be carried out,” Seko said after the decision was made.

“We will create opportunities for dialogue with the local area.”

Nishikawa had said at a similar meeting Monday that the central government had not given enough justification for decommissioning Monju or considered the plant’s operation history sufficiently.

He has also argued that the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, which operates Monju, is incapable of safely dismantling the reactor.

A nuclear regulatory body recommended last year that the JAEA be disqualified from operating the facility following revelations of mismanagement, including a massive number of equipment inspection failures in 2012.

Science minister Hirokazu Matsuno instructed JAEA President Toshio Kodama on Wednesday to come up with a decommissioning plan by around April next year. The government has said it plans to take third-party technical opinions into account in working out how the decommissioning will take place. ”

by Nikkei Asian Review

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Scrapping of Monju would mean disposal of 760 tons of radioactive sodium, MOX fuel — The Japan Times

” About 760 tons of radioactive sodium remain in the piping and other equipment of the trouble-prone Monju prototype fast-breeder nuclear reactor, which may be ordered decommissioned, it was learned Sunday.

It has not been decided how to dispose of the radioactive sodium, said sources at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of Monju. If the government decides to scrap the reactor, sodium disposal is expected to be a difficult challenge.

Sodium is used as a coolant at Monju, while water is used at conventional nuclear reactors. Sodium is a tricky chemical element that burns intensely if it comes into contact with air or water.

According to the agency, the Monju reactor has some 1,670 tons of sodium. Radioactive substances are contained in 760 tons of the total as it circulates inside the reactor vessel.

The Monju reactor needs to be drained of the sodium if it is to be demolished.

Radioactive and chemically active sodium has to be sealed in containers. There is no precedent of radioactive sodium disposal in Japan.

“We plan to consider the method of disposal if a decision is made to decommission (Monju),” an official said.

Monju, located in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, is a core facility in Japan’s nuclear fuel cycle policy because, if running properly, the reactor produces more plutonium than it consumes.

More than ¥1 trillion, mostly from state budgets, has been invested in Monju. But the 280,000-kw reactor has operated for only 250 days since it reached criticality, or a self-sustained nuclear fission chain reaction, for the first time in April 1994, due to a raft of problems, including maintenance flaws, a sodium leak and fire and attempted coverup.

In November 2015, the Nuclear Regulation Authority advised the government to replace the operator of Monju. The government is carrying out a thorough review of the Monju project, including the possibility of decommissioning the reactor.

The disposal of the mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel used at Monju is another significant issue. The amount of MOX fuel, a blend of uranium and plutonium recycled from spent nuclear fuel, that needs to be disposed of is estimated at 21 tons, but Japan is not equipped to carry out its disposal.

One option is to consign the disposal to a foreign country and receive the return of uranium and plutonium after the processing, along with radioactive waste.

But the agency’s cost estimate of ¥300 billion for decommissioning Monju does not include the expense of the overseas entrustment of MOX fuel disposal.

The agency aims to entrust France with the disposal of some 64 tons of MOX fuel that has been used at its Fugen advanced converter reactor, but no contract has been concluded. The Fugen reactor, also in Tsuruga, is slated to be decommissioned.

Spent MOX fuel contains larger amounts of highly toxic radioactive substances than spent uranium from conventional reactors.

The disposal of radioactive sodium and MOX fuel at Monju is emerging as an additional and difficult challenge for the government at a time when the final disposal site has not been decided for high-level radioactive waste from nuclear plants across Japan. ”

Jiji

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*Editorial: 40-year rule for nuclear reactors on verge of being a dead letter — The Asahi Shimbun

” The 40-year lifespan for nuclear reactors, established after the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, is now in danger of being watered down to irrelevance.

The rule requires the decommissioning of aging reactors, starting with the oldest, for a gradual, carefully controlled process of phasing out nuclear power generation in this country.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on April 20 formally decided that the No. 1 and No. 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture, which have been in service for over 40 years, meet new nuclear safety standards introduced after the devastating 2011 accident.

This is the first license renewal for a reactor that has been in operation for more than four decades under the new standards.

If they pass the remaining regulatory inspections concerning technical details by the July deadline, the reactors will likely continue to generate electricity for two more decades.

The 40-year lifespan provision was introduced through a revision to the law after the Fukushima disaster.

Just one service life extension of up to 20 years is allowed, but only as an “extremely exceptional” measure.

This exception was made to avoid a shortage of electricity. But concerns about any serious power crunch have virtually dissipated thanks to a marked rise in levels of power and energy conservation in society.

The NRA’s formal decision to extend the life of the two aging reactors came amid a series of earthquakes rocking central Kyushu around Kumamoto Prefecture which have been described by the Japan Meteorological Agency as “a deviation from the rules extracted from past experiences.”

Many Japanese are concerned that the quakes could affect Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai nuclear plant in neighboring Kagoshima Prefecture. The NRA’s decision to grant an exception to the rule so quickly could have the effect of relaxing the safety standards and deepening public distrust of the government’s nuclear regulation.

The Abe administration is leaving all licensing decisions on individual reactors entirely to the NRA. But it has mapped out a long-term energy supply plan based on the assumption that the service life of reactors will be extended.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who repeatedly pledged to lower Japan’s dependence on nuclear power as much as possible, has been changing his stance little by little without announcing any clear policy shift.

The NRA’s mission is to enhance the safety of nuclear plants from a scientific viewpoint.

But the way the nuclear watchdog assessed the safety of the reactors at the Takahama plant has raised questions about its appropriateness. The NRA has, for instance, allowed Kansai Electric Power to delay required quake resistance tests.

If it has scheduled its assessment work in a way to ensure that the July deadline will be met, the agency has got its priorities completely wrong.

A troubling situation is now emerging where decisions on whether to decommission specific reactors are effectively left to the utilities that operate them. As a result, these decisions are being based primarily on whether extending the life of the reactors will pay.

Operating many nuclear reactors in Japan, a small country with a large population that is highly prone to earthquakes and other natural disasters, inevitably entails a large risk.

This grim reality was the starting point for the reform of the nuclear power policy prompted by the Fukushima accident.

If the government sticks to the policy of maintaining nuclear power generation, the burden on society, including the costs of disposing of nuclear waste, could increase over the long term.

There is a clear global trend toward raising energy self-sufficiency through efforts to develop renewable energy sources.

A transition period may be necessary. But the only policy that makes sense is to shut down reactors steadily over a period of years.

The 40-year rule is one of the key principles of this policy. The government should remember this fact.

–The Asahi Shimbun, April 21 ”

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Japan restarts fourth atomic reactor since 2012 moratorium — The Japan Times

” Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama No. 4 reactor in Fukui Prefecture on Friday became the nation’s fourth to be restarted since 2012 and the first to burn MOX, a mixed-oxide fuel that contains plutonium.

In a statement released Friday afternoon, Kepco President Makoto Yagi said safety would remain the top priority and that the utility would continue to promote safety standards beyond what was legally required.

The startup came nearly a week after a radioactive water leak was discovered at the reactor’s auxiliary building on Feb. 20. Kepco halted restart preparations while it repaired the leak, saying it did not pose a danger to the environment.

The utility said earlier this week the leak was caused by a loose pipe valve and could be repaired without affecting the restart schedule, which called for rebooting the unit by the end of this month.

Under Kepco’s schedule for the restart process, the No. 4 reactor is expected to start generating electricity by Monday afternoon and reach full power a few days later. Once the Nuclear Regulation Authority gives final approval, and assuming there are no last-minute technical problems, the plan is to have it back online and selling electricity from late March, just before the end of fiscal 2015.

The restart of Takahama No. 4 comes about a month after the nuclear power plant’s No. 3 reactor was restarted. Along with two reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai plant, which went back online last August, they comprise the four reactors that have been restarted since beefed-up nuclear safety standards took effect in 2012.

In addition to No. 3 and No. 4, which are at least 30 years old, Kepco also wants to restart Takahama Nos. 1 and 2, both of which are over 40. It hopes to run them for up to two decades. Despite concerns about the increased probability of accidents at the aged plants, their restart moved a step closer to reality on Wednesday, when the NRA said additional safety systems Kepco installed to extend the reactors’ life spans met its standards.

The next step will be soliciting public comment, and then further permission from the NRA is required for what would be the first-ever extensions in Japan of reactors over 40 years old.

Before that happens, Kepco will seek final permission from the mayor of Takahama and the governor of Fukui Prefecture for the restart, which could be a lengthy process. The utility may also find itself forced to deal with public and political concerns in surrounding Kansai prefectures like Shiga and Kyoto, where safety concerns about the aged reactors are strong. ”

by Eric Johnston

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Editorial: Takahama reactor restart raises fresh nuclear safety concerns — The Asahi Shimbun

” The No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Takahama nuclear power plant in Takahama, Fukui Prefecture, is set to restart on Jan. 29.

It will be the third nuclear reactor to be brought back online under stricter safety regulations drawn up by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011.

The No. 1 and No. 2 reactors of Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear plant in Kagoshima Prefecture were brought back online in August and October, respectively.

This March will mark the fifth anniversary of the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Electric utilities have formally requested that the NRA inspect 25 of the 43 reactors across the nation, plus one under construction, to determine whether they meet the new safety standards.

The No. 3 unit at Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s Ikata nuclear power plant in Ehime Prefecture is expected to be the next reactor to go online following the ones at the Sendai and Takahama plants.

We are deeply concerned about offline reactors starting up again one after another, especially as there are troubling signs that the bitter lessons from Fukushima are being lost.

Once again we express our opposition to the plan to restart the Takahama plant reactor.

Safety Concerns Being Ignored

In a July 2011 editorial, we called for a major shift in the government’s energy policy to build a society without nuclear power generation.

Before the 2011 calamity, nuclear energy accounted for nearly 30 percent of power supply in Japan.

There was concern that terminating nuclear power generation immediately would trigger a massive power crunch and soaring electricity bills, seriously impacting people’s livelihoods.

We argued that Japan should sharply reduce its dependence on atomic power and strive to build a society powered mainly by renewable energy sources.

We also maintained that offline nuclear reactors should be allowed to resume operations only after their safety has been ascertained and they were clearly necessary for meeting demand for electricity.

The first thing to point out about the plan to bring the reactor at the Takahama plant back on stream is that the “safety first” principle has been ignored.

The grim lesson we learned from Fukushima is that nuclear accidents far above anyone’s expectations can actually happen.

Fifteen nuclear reactors are located around Wakasa Bay in Fukui Prefecture, including some that are being decommissioned. This area has one of the highest concentrations of nuclear power facilities in the world.

What would happen if a natural disaster, for instance, triggers severe accidents at more than one nuclear power plant in a particular area?

No clear answer has been given to this question, which was raised by the Fukushima triple meltdown.

The NRA paid scant attention to this risk in its safety inspection of the reactor at the Takahama plant.

Last year, Kansai Electric Power decided to scrap two small and aged reactors in Fukui Prefecture, where it has 11 reactors in total. But the utility also decided to continue operating three reactors beyond their 40th year of service.

There is no denying that efforts to minimize the safety risks involved in the reactors in the prefecture have been grossly insufficient.

The No. 3 unit at the Takahama plant is a so-called plutonium-thermal reactor which burns mixed oxide (MOX) fuel consisting of plutonium blended with uranium. It should not be forgotten that this fact further increases safety concerns among local residents.

Poor Safety Protection for Residents

The emergency evacuation plan, which should serve as the last protective shield for local residents during nuclear emergencies, is far from reliable.

Local governments of areas within 30 kilometers of a nuclear power plant are required to develop plans for emergency evacuations of local residents.

A total of 12 municipalities in the three prefectures of Fukui, Kyoto and Shiga are located within that distance of the Takahama plant. They have a combined population of 179,000.

Late last year, the government’s Nuclear Emergency Preparedness Commission approved the wide-area evacuation plans that have been worked out by the three prefectures.

In the worst case scenario, local residents living within a 30-km radius would be evacuated to 56 cities and towns in the four prefectures of Fukui, Hyogo, Kyoto and Tokushima, according to these plans.

But only seven cities of the 56 municipalities have devised plans to accept evacuees in such a situation, according to a survey by The Asahi Shimbun.

Most of the municipal governments surveyed said they had concerns about factors such as their ability to secure necessary facilities, manpower and materials to accept evacuees and the possibility of vehicles contaminated with radiation entering their areas.

Their anxiety is by no means surprising given that before the Fukushima accident it was not assumed that residents living outside a 10-km radius of a nuclear power plant might have to be evacuated in a nuclear emergency.

Ensuring the effectiveness of evacuation plans requires repeated drills and reviews to evaluate the blueprints.

But no evacuation drill has been conducted under an evacuation plan for an area around the Takahama plant. It is deeply worrisome to see the reactor being restarted without confirmation of the feasibility and effectiveness of the evacuation plans.

In response to anxiety among local residents, many of the local governments of areas within 30 km of the plant asked Kansai Electric Power to give them the right to consent to a plan to restart a reactor.

But the utility rejected their requests, while the central government has stuck to the position that all that is required for a reactor restart is consent from the local governments of the area where it is located.

Restarting a reactor without solving these safety issues can only be described as a premature move.

Road Map Needed for Nuclear-free Future

Electric power companies have stressed concerns about stable power supply and rises in electricity charges due to increasing fuel costs as main reasons for their efforts to resume operations of idle reactors.

But the situations related to these problems have been clearly changing prior to the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster.

All nuclear reactors remained out of operation for nearly two years until last summer. But no serious power shortage occurred during the period.

In addition to various maneuverings by utilities to meet demand, such as delaying regular safety checks of their thermal power plants, spreading power-saving efforts among the public also contributed significantly to preventing a power crunch.

Kansai Electric Power’s sales of electricity, for instance, have fallen by about 10 percent from before the Fukushima accident.

Deregulation of the power retail market will allow households to choose their suppliers, starting in April. This will make consumers even more conscious of the efficiency of their use of electricity.

After growing for a while because of factors blamed on the economic effects of shutting down reactors, Japan’s trade deficit has started shrinking thanks to falls in fuel costs due to lower crude prices.

Kansai Electric Power says it can lower its electricity charges if the reactor at the Takahama plant starts running again. But amid serious safety concerns, this offers no convincing rationale for restarting the reactor.

Another big question related to reactor restarts is how to find a location for interim storage of spent nuclear fuel that is piling up in pools within nuclear power complexes.

The dispute over the plan to restart the reactor in Fukui Prefecture has underscored differences in the stance of the local communities calling for the implementation of the plan, and that of the Kansai region, which has generally been cautious about supporting the plan despite the fact that it consumes the electricity generated at the nuclear plant.

There can be no realistic vision for a future without nuclear power generation without support from the local communities that have been hosting nuclear plants for many years.

All the parties involved, including not only the central government but also areas that consume electricity generated at nuclear power plants, should work together to lay out such a future vision. ”

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