Japan approves first reactor life extension since Fukushima disaster — Reuters via The Business Times

” [TOKYO] Japan’s nuclear regulator on Monday approved an application from Kansai Electric Power Co to extend the life of two ageing reactors beyond 40 years, the first such approval under new safety requirements imposed since the Fukushima disaster.

The move means Kansai Electric, Japan’s most nuclear reliant utility before Fukushima led to the almost complete shutdown of Japan’s atomic industry, can keep reactors No 1 and 2 at its Takahama plant operating until they are 60-years-old.

Both reactors have been shutdown since 2011 and any restart will not take place immediately as Kansai Electric needs to carry out safety upgrades at a cost of about 200 billion yen (S$2.57 billion).

A company spokesman told Reuters the upgrades involve fire proofing cabling and other measures and will not be completed until October 2019 at the earliest.

Takahama No 1 reactor is 41-years-old and the No 2 unit is 40-years-old. Located west of Tokyo, both have a capacity of 826 megawatts and are pressurised water reactors, which uses a different technology than the boiling water reactors that melted down at Fukushima in 2011.

Kansai’s No 3 and 4 units at the Takahama plant are under court-ordered shutdown after they were restarted earlier this year, a ruling that was upheld last Friday.

Opinion polls consistently show opposition to nuclear power following Fukushima. Critics say regulators have failed to take into account lessons learned after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Only two other reactors have restarted under the new regulatory regime, those at the Sendai plant operated by Kyushu Electric Power in southwestern Japan, Shikoku Electric Power expects to begin operations of its Ikata No 3 reactor in late July after receiving approval from the regulator, a spokesman has told Reuters.

Osaka-based Kansai Electric, which used to get about half of power supplies from nuclear plants before the 2011 disaster, says it needs to get reactors running to cut costs and improve its financial position.

It is facing competition from other suppliers after the government in April opened up the retail power market to full competition. ”

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Did Japan learn its lessons from Fukushima quake and tsunami? One US expert suggests they did not — South China Morning Post

” Lack of full-time, permanent, professional disaster management staff remain weaknesses. “

” A former US government expert on emergency management has questioned whether Japan is applying the lessons from the 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami in its northeast to its response to the recent temblors in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Leo Bosner, 69, who worked for the US Federal Emergency Management Agency for 29 years, is concerned that an integrated response may not have been in place in Japan for the quakes that jolted the south-western prefecture a month ago.

“I discovered many problems” when studying “Japan’s disastrous response” to the 2011 calamity and “I have not really heard of any major improvements,” he told Kyodo News in a recent interview. “So I am a little concerned that these problems may be continuing.”

“It is too early to make a definitive evaluation of the response to the Kumamoto disaster, but recent news headlines have indicated possible problem areas,” he said, identifying such areas as questions about the use of the US military’s Osprey aircraft to language barriers for foreigners.

Bosner said the existence of no unified system for major disaster response in Japan could cause even the best-intended efforts to bog down.

“For example, various towns, prefectures and organisations may send food and other supplies to a disaster area, but if there is a shortage of people at the disaster site to sort out and distribute the supplies, the supplies don’t get distributed to those in need in a timely manner,” he said.

He also cited Japan’s lack of full-time, permanent, professional disaster management staff and of a strong connection between the governmental and non-governmental response to disasters as other big problems.

“One thing to me that is a major barrier is that in the Japan government offices, people change the job every two years…so there is no time to build up an expertise,” he said.

“I really think that if the Japanese government wants to do a strong job in disasters, they need to somehow establish a permanent staff who will stay involved over the years,” he said.

“In Japan, because everything is so spread out in the government and not working together, in my view, it is very inefficient,” he said. “I think if Japan could centralise this function more, it would be cheaper.”

Bosner also proposed transferring officials in or between the central and regional governments while always working as disaster management specialists.

“My thought was, ‘What if some worked in the Japan national government in Tokyo for two years as a disaster planner?’ But then let’s say when he rotated he would go to some other industry but would still be a disaster planner in that industry and then maybe if he rotated to a prefecture to a city, he would be a disaster planner in that prefecture or that city.”

“If they did this, in about five or 10 years, Japan would have a real network of experienced disaster planners who understood the system and could work together. But right now they don’t have this.”

He said the United States integrated all the functions to respond to disasters into Fema and turned a weak agency into one that properly works.

The administration of President Bill Clinton turned Fema around, but that of George W. Bush downsized it, which backfired later when Hurricane Katrina hit the southern part of the United States in 2005.

“Under the Bush administration, very honestly, he just appointed political friends to be in charge of Fema who did not know anything about disasters.”

“So when Katrina came, they could not give the orders, they could not make the decisions, they did not know what to do. It was terrible. For those of us who worked at Fema, it was so disappointing because we were helpless.”

Bosner said that if there is “a political will” rather than increased budgets, Japan will be able to have a better system to respond to disasters just as the United States did.

“In Japan, there are plenty of people, in my view, who would be excellent for running a Japan Fema or managing it…if the ministers of the Cabinet of the prime minister agree and say, ‘We must do this’,” he said. “But until they make that decision, nothing can happen.”

Bosner served as an emergency management expert at Fema from 1979 to 2008. He stayed in Japan from 2000 to 2001 studying that country’s emergency management system. His current job includes being an adjunct lecturer in the Emergency Medical Systems Graduate School of Tokyo’s Kokushikan University. “

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Five years after Fukushima: How to avoid the next nuclear disaster: Foreign Affairs

” Five years ago next month, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded hit Japan, destroying its long-standing myth of zero-risk nuclear energy. The meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant revealed significant shortcomings in Japan’s safety culture, which the country has since learned from and has been trying to address. Countries charging ahead with nuclear power should heed these lessons to avoid another Fukushima.

In the years since the accident, the Fukushima plant’s damaged reactors have been stabilized through a makeshift water-cooling system, and releases of radioactivity have been greatly reduced. Meanwhile, after decontamination efforts, some of the over 100,000 evacuees have been allowed to return home.

However, despite some notable successes in cleaning up the site, tens of thousands of people are still displaced, work conditions at the plant remain poor, storing the accumulating radioactive water is an ongoing concern, and Japan remains decades away from fully decommissioning the mangled reactors. The total economic damage has been estimated at over $100 billion, and none of the six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will ever operate again.

There have been no deaths from the effects of the radiation (according to the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, any increase in cancer rates is expected to be too small to detect). On the other hand, forced evacuation is estimated to have played a role in over 1,000 premature deaths, and according to a World Health Organization health risk assessment, as with Chernobyl, the psychological toll of the disaster is a major concern and potentially outweighs other health consequences.

The disaster prompted many other countries to take stock of their own nuclear programs. The take-home lesson for some, including a majority of the Japanese public, was to move away from nuclear power. For example, Germany vowed to phase out all nuclear power by 2022, Italy voted overwhelmingly not to restart its nuclear program, and Switzerland banned the construction of new reactors.

Other nations were hardly slowed in their expansion of nuclear energy. China, India, and Russia lead the way with, all together, more than 40 reactors under construction and over twice as many planned. In their haste, it seems that many of these countries have not absorbed the key lesson from Fukushima: the importance of a rigorous and all-encompassing safety regime.

Before the Disaster

According to a National Academy of Sciences study, prior to the Fukushima accident, Japan’s nuclear regulatory agencies did not seem to have sufficient expertise, authority, resources, or independence to adequately protect public safety. In hindsight, the problem appears to be a classic case of regulatory capture, reinforced by the common practices of amakudari (descent from heaven), referring to retired powerful public officials being hired into private sector jobs, and amaagari (ascent to heaven), referring to private sector experts moving into government-related positions.

Moreover, the regulatory body was housed in the very ministry charged with promoting nuclear energy, which created a potential conflict of interest. (To avoid similar issues, in 1975, the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission was split to separate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from promotional functions.)

An independent regulator is not sufficient, though: a strong culture of safety must also be cultivated throughout the nuclear network—from operators and construction workers up to plant owners—as well as throughout the supply chain. Pride must come not just from the megawatts produced; each entity should prioritize public safety when building or operating nuclear plants and maintain alertness through frequent drills for workers at all levels.

The 2011 meltdown turned a spotlight on the flaws in the safety regime of Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima Daiichi operator. It had falsified reports and fudged safety-related inspections long before Fukushima; it had also failed to update its seismic and tsunami safety standards. To be sure, it is difficult to prepare for an event that seems nearly impossible, such as an earthquake and tsunami of the magnitude that hit Japan, but a superior safety culture can make a difference—some have argued that that was why the reactors at the Onagawa power station, which were slammed as hard as Fukushima Daiichi, remained intact and were safely shut down.

Praiseworthy Progress

Since the accident, Japan has taken admirable, although incomplete, steps to set up an independent regulator and to improve its safety culture, including by bringing in respected international advisers. Last year, it began gradually to reactivate some of the country’s functioning reactors. Before Fukushima, the more than 50 reactors had provided Japan with some 30 percent of its electrical power, but all were taken offline in the months after the accident.

Of course, Japan is not alone in facing these types of safety-related problems. After dissolving the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the United States, the world’s leading producer of nuclear energy, has faced criticism for the amount of influence the industry wields over its rule-making process. South Korea’s nuclear industry, too, has had problems, including a history of falsifying safety documents.

But most worrying are the developing countries entering the huddle. China leads the way, with plans to triple its nuclear-generating capacity by 2020, but its regulator is neither structurally independent nor well staffed. Because an accident has such massive potential for widespread damage, tight quality control is essential. China’s track record in this regard is not promising. For example, in 1987, the crew constructing a nuclear plant near Hong Kong misread blueprints and initially failed to incorporate a large portion of the requisite protective steel, raising questions about competence and oversight.

Some new powers are more prudent, including the United Arab Emirates, which began creating a solid regulatory framework, with a team of international experts to regularly assess the program’s progress, long before its first reactor comes online in 2017.

Others are more cavalier, such as Vietnam, another one-party state with nuclear ambitions and no precedent for any type of independent regulatory entity. Iran, a seismically active country, also has attracted concern over the safety of its current and future reactors and the lack of independence of its regulator, despite the recent nuclear deal with the P5+1 (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, plus Germany). India is another fast-growing nuclear power, with over 25 reactors either under construction or planned. But it is stuck on the question of regulatory independence since a proposed law on regulation, tabled in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, was not passed by the legislature.

Calls for International Atomic Energy Agency reforms that will require more rigorous international safety checks are welcome, but it must not stop there. Generating nuclear energy should be recognized as a serious responsibility, given the scale of damage and suffering when things go wrong—as the world was reminded five years ago. ”

by David Roberts and Norman Neureiter

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As memory of Chernobyl, Fukushima fades, activists renew nuclear warning — Climate Home

Climate Home: “ As aides escorted him past swaying chandeliers to a panic room, the mind of Japan’s prime minister flashed to his country’s seaside nuclear power stations. 

Tremors in Tokyo meant tsunamis, Naoto Kan, a physics graduate, feared. It was 11 March 2011.

The next day 250km north-east of the capital, three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant went into meltdown as cooling systems failed.

Large explosions shot radioactive materials into the atmosphere following a barrage by 20-metre waves. Over 100,000 residents were evacuated.

Under worst case scenarios, the fallout could affect 50 million citizens – and envelop the capital – specialists informed the leader.

“Only a great world war would have had the same impact,” Kan, now an opposition lawmaker, told an anti-nuclear event in the UK Parliament on Thursday.

“My thoughts on nuclear power changed 180 degrees. The country would go down in ruin,” said Kan, a youthful man despite his 69 years.

Six months later he had resigned, public support for atomic energy bombed, and Japan resorted to ramping up fossil fuel imports as its 54 reactors were shut down.

His speech as part of a panel on Thursday was timely. March 13 will mark the fifth anniversary of the accident, which some scientists say is the most catastrophic nuclear disaster in history.

Only Chernobyl – which will mark 30 years on April 26 – shares the maximum level-7 rating on a sliding scale. Mikhail Gorbachev – Russia’s leader at the time of the disaster  – was also due to give his account, but cancelled due to health concerns.

The event was a bid to instruct UK energy policy as it plans to builds its first nuclear station for a generation. Nuclear is touted as a lower carbon source of reliable baseload power.

Interest in the implications of a renewed nuclear power programme here is high. Forty MPs were registered to attend the event, said organisers.

The economics might still defeat the case for the £18bn ($26bn) Hinkley Point C reactor in Somerset, but do not underestimate the risks, the panel which included a Japanese policy researcher, a manager of a Fukushima evacuees centre and a UK academic, said.

Rates of thyroid cancer in young people are beginning to climb in Fukushima, just as they were found to in Chernobyl, the panel said. How to tackle nuclear waste is unresolved, and the benefits in tackling global warming are lower than stated.

“Don’t consider Fukushima as something that could never never happen to you. It could,” said Yoshiko Aoki, who runs a centre for evacuees 10km from the site.

Britain’s seven nuclear power stations supply 19% of its electricity, according to the Nuclear Industry Association. The government is mulling eight potential sites for new plants, the BBC reports.

A 2013 World Health Organisation report said there was a 4% higher chance of solid cancers for females exposed as infants in Fukushima. There had been no observed risk to the the general Japanese population and abroad, and predicted effects were “low”.

Still, nuclear is a flawed response to tackle climate change said Paul Dorfman, a professor at UCL’s Energy Institute and founder of the Nuclear Consulting Group.

“Nuclear is based on the coast or inland by water for cooling purposes. The first places that will be affected [by climate change] according to the Institute of Mechanical Engineers will be coastal regions,” he told Climate Home.

And a long planning process meant they wouldn’t come online early enough to significantly cut emissions, added Dorfman, who argued official assessments of the radiation threats from Hinkley, ran by French utility EDF had been downplayed.

Safety over new reactors cannot be guaranteed he said, and the UK government was only insured up to $134 million in the event of an accident, whereas the Fukushima clean-up operation may cost $100-200 billion.

Away from the UK, China plans to build 40 plants. Other emerging nations like South Africa and India are also looking to harness the power of the atom.

The newly-inked Paris agreement’s exacting carbon reduction targets would appear to give a fillip to this energy source, with greenhouse gases needing to fall to zero by 2100.

But former PM Kan was unequivocal. Renewable power from solar and wind was the best solution to tackle carbon emissions.

Japan whose emissions spiked as it imported natural gas and coal to fill its nuclear hole, could deploy enough solar photovoltaic cells to replace its atomic fleet within 5-10 years, he claimed.

Tetsunari Iida of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies beamed of 200 communities installing solar panels in a new bottom-up “energy democracy”. But Japan, like any other, is not immune to political realities.

The Abe government, which has turned 2 reactors back on, intends for nuclear to supply 20-22% of electricity in 2030. Solar is forecast to account for just 7%, though analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance predict it slightly higher at 12%, still a fraction.

But scarred by the prospect of a catastrophic nuclear accident, any alternative is better, the panel said.

As the government declares certain zones safe, and evacuees return to rebuild after five years of a life displaced, Aoki of the evacuees centre warned.

“You don’t want to be apologising to your own children or grandchildren for making a big mistake… Please learn from Fukushima,” she said. ”

by Alex Pashley

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Former PM Naoto Kan says nuclear power makes little economic sense, must end — The Japan Times

” Although the first reactor in Japan to be fired up in two years went online last month, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Wednesday that Japan needs to seek a nuclear-free path.

This is a lesson the country has learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, said Kan, who was prime minister when the Fukushima No. 1 plant was hit by a huge quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.

“I’m absolutely sure that there will no longer be nuclear power by the end of this century. This is because it doesn’t make sense economically, and enough energy can be provided without it,” Kan said in a lecture to foreign residents in Tokyo.

While reactor 1 at the Sendai plant in Kagoshima Prefecture was restarted in August, Japan has survived the past few summers without nuclear power, Kan said.

He added that although the current government is still promoting nuclear power, Japan has seen an increase of renewable energy since the Fukushima accident, especially from solar panels.

He said nuclear power was believed to be a cheap source of energy, but it is actually expensive, considering the cost of decommissioning and managing nuclear waste.

Kan also shared his experience of visiting Olkiluoto Nuclear Power Plant in Finland, where a final nuclear waste repository is being constructed. There, he was told it would take 100,000 years for the radiation of nuclear waste to descend to the same level of the uranium that exists in the natural environment.

Using nuclear power, Kan said, means increasing the amount of dangerous waste that will trouble future generations, adding that this is why other former prime ministers such as Junichiro Koizumi and Morihiro Hosokawa are also voicing their wish to end Japan’s dependence on it. ”

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Fairewinds nuke truth at House of Commons — Arnie Gundersen via Fairewinds Energy Education

source with videos of Gundersen speaking to the House of Commons about the lessons learned from Fukushima

” My week in the UK was exciting and full of surprises. I spoke to hundreds of people in London and Cumbria who are committed to a new energy future for Europe. They know that the dated model of big business centralized electricity production is ending, and they see a clean, disaster free viable alternative in locally distributed generation. Still, it seems that the established British utilities are so fixated on nuclear power that they just offered to charge their customers twice the current market price for electricity for the next 35-years, so that a French nuclear company could build a fancy and untried new nuclear design at Hinkley Point. The United Kingdom is anything but united when it comes to how it will produce electricity in the 21st century!

Britain has experienced the dangers of nuclear power first hand as the site of the world’s first major nuclear disaster at Windscale, receiving huge amounts of contamination from Chernobyl fallout in Wales, and contaminating the Irish Sea with Plutonium at its waste reprocessing plant at Sellafield. With that background, I understand why the citizens of the UK embrace a nuclear free future. When I spoke at the House of Commons, it was clear that only a minority of the MP’s (like US Representatives) could envision an energy future different than the past. Similar to the US, the financially influential electric power monopolies have convinced a majority of the MPs that there is no alternative to nuclear power. Thankfully, many people in the UK disagree and see a nuclear free future!

Surprisingly, it was in Cumbria that I saw the most poignant reminder of how dangerous nuclear power is. There in the fog and rain stood “Cockcroft’s Folly”, a ventilation stack on the old Windscale reactor. Filters on that stack, thankfully, captured most of the radiation released during the 1957 Windscale catastrophe.

When Windscale was under construction, Sir John Cockcroft, a great engineer and Nobel Prize winner, insisted that filters be added to the ventilation stack. The British nuclear establishment laughed at him, but he was unyielding and persisted in his cause until the filters were added to Windscale. Naysayers nicknamed the filters “Cockcroft’s Folly”, and no one believed they were necessary. Then came the Windscale nuclear core fire and those “unnecessary” filters saved thousands of lives. Too contaminated even now to be removed, “Cockcroft’s Folly” stands in the middle of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, part of a more than $60 billion cleanup planned for the neighboring stretch of coastline along the contaminated Irish Sea.

Three new AP1000 reactors are proposed to be built in Cumbria within sight of “Cockcroft’s Folly”. Since 2010, I have repeatedly said that the AP1000 design suffers the same design flaw as the old Windscale reactor. Like Sir John, I believe that filters must be added to the top of the AP1000 shield building to prevent huge amounts of radiation from being released during a meltdown. I call this problem “the chimney effect” and wrote a paper about it entitled “ Nuclear Containment Failures- Ramifications for the AP1000 Containment Design”. The Independent, a major newspaper in the UK, courageously wrote about my concerns with the headline: Nuclear expert Arnie Gundersen warns of ‘Chernobyl on steroids’ risk in UK from proposed Cumbria plant .

Fairewinds received hundreds of tweets praising that story, and as can be expected, some of the 20th century paradigm pro-nukes pushed back, attacking my credibility. Sir John Cockcroft must be spinning in his grave, wondering “When will they ever learn?” “