TEPCO must regain public trust to ensure Fukushima’s steady recovery — The Yomiuri Shimbun

” To ensure the steady recovery of Fukushima, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s revised business plan must not be allowed to end up as pie in the sky.

TEPCO has compiled a new business plan. The utility has strengthened its steps to improve profitability to raise funds for costs including decommissioning reactors and compensation related to the March 2011 accident at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. This is the second time the plan has been revised.

The total cost of cleaning up the nuclear accident has ballooned from ¥11 trillion to ¥21.5 trillion. TEPCO will shoulder ¥16 trillion of this amount over about 30 years. The ¥300 billion TEPCO spent in fiscal 2016 on compensation and reactor decommissioning costs will be increased to ¥500 billion annually.

TEPCO must boost its “earning power” to secure sufficient capital to meet those costs. Restarting reactors at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture will be essential for this. Each reactor brought back online will raise TEPCO’s earnings by ¥40 billion to ¥90 billion per year.

TEPCO is working to gradually restart all seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant from fiscal 2019. However, as things stand, high hurdles remain in its way. This is because even if a reactor passes safety screenings conducted by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, local government authorities also must agree to the reactors’ restart.

The recent revelation that TEPCO did not disclose data about the insufficient earthquake-resistance of the main quake-resistant building at the plant has further heightened local distrust of the utility. Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama is not budging from his cautious stance because he believes safety measures at the plant are insufficient. “At the moment, I can’t agree to the restart” of the reactors, Yoneyama said.

An expert panel of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry also had some stinging criticism for TEPCO, saying it “has not earned enough trust from the public.”

Transparency vital

On June 23, TEPCO will switch to a new leadership lineup when Hitachi, Ltd. Honorary Chairman Takashi Kawamura becomes TEPCO’s chairman. Kawamura will need to work hard to regain trust in TEPCO so restarting its reactors can become a reality.

Strengthening cooperation with other electric utilities and launching new operations, such as gas retailing, also will be effective in solidifying TEPCO’s revenue base. Another issue that needs to be addressed is the overseas development of its thermal power business, in which TEPCO is pursuing integration with Chubu Electric Power Co.

The new plan stipulates TEPCO will “prepare a basic framework for cooperation with other companies” by around fiscal 2020, keeping in mind the Higashidori nuclear plant TEPCO is constructing in Aomori Prefecture.

TEPCO is considering working with Tohoku Electric Power Co., which has a nuclear power plant in that region. If this tie-up comes to fruition, it will be useful for establishing a stable supply of electricity. TEPCO’s intentions on this issue are understandable.

Other utilities that could become partners with TEPCO during a realignment in the industry hold deep-rooted concerns that cooperating with TEPCO could result in the costs of dealing with the nuclear accident being shunted on to them. TEPCO must lay the groundwork to dispel such concerns.

TEPCO and the government will, as soon as this autumn, establish a forum at which they can listen to the opinions of other electric utilities on steps to reorganize nuclear power and electricity transmission businesses.

Profits will be distributed based on the capital contribution ratio in a joint venture. Other companies should not be forced to shoulder the costs of the Fukushima nuclear accident. Highly transparent rules such as these will need to be drawn up. ”

by The Yomiuri Shimbun



Determined sake brewer seeks to revive Fukushima with renewable energy — The Asahi Shimbun

” KITAKATA, Fukushima Prefecture–Yauemon Sato’s determination to forge ahead with his ideas, no matter how unorthodox, has led fellow workers to describe him as “a dump truck with broken brakes.”

This way of thinking has apparently helped to keep his family’s sake brewery in business since 1790. It could also be the reason why local governments are investing in the 64-year-old’s plan to revitalize Fukushima Prefecture.

After the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, Sato decided that the only way the prefecture could be revived was through renewable energy sources.

In August 2013, he established Aizu Denryoku, an electric power company, and brought together individuals with diverse backgrounds to serve as executives and advisers. One was a special adviser of the Japanese subsidiary of a major U.S. semiconductor manufacturer, while another once headed the Fukushima prefectural board of education.

Another member of the group was an ethnologist who promoted Tohoku area studies.

They were all impressed by Sato’s fortitude.

Sato is the ninth-generation chief of the Yamatogawa Shuzoten sake brewery in Kitakata of the Aizu region in western Fukushima Prefecture. When explosions rocked the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., Sato thought the 200-year old family business was done for.

However, radiation levels in the Aizu region never reached alarming levels.

Sato felt somewhat guilty because he continued with his life and business while compatriots in other areas of Fukushima Prefecture were evacuating by the thousands.

“All I thought about was what the Aizu region could do,” Sato said. “Nothing will begin as long as all we say is, ‘The central government is to blame and TEPCO is to blame.’”

Sato took note of the many power plants already established in the Aizu region, which boasts a bountiful water supply that has helped foster a vast expanse of forest.

Construction of hydraulic power plants in the area started in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), and those plants today have a total generation capacity of about 4 gigawatts.

Much like the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, most of the power generated at those hydraulic plants has gone to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.

“The water used in hydraulic power plants originally was the rain and snow that fell in the great outdoors of Fukushima,” Sato said.

He felt that bringing back such resources would allow Fukushima to generate all the electricity it needed without relying on outside sources.

He also believed that such a move would be important to allow Fukushima to move away from being “a colony” of sorts to the Tokyo area.

Sato started with solar power because installation was much easier than constructing hydraulic power plants.

As a first step, Aizu Denryoku built the Oguni solar power plant in Kitakata with an output capacity of 1 megawatt. Smaller facilities were then set up in 23 locations.

By fiscal 2014, Aizu Denryoku and its subsidiaries were operating plants with a combined capacity of 2.54 megawatts and selling the electricity to Tohoku Electric Power Co., which is in charge of supplying all of Fukushima Prefecture.

Aizu Denryoku plans to increase its generating capacity to 5 megawatts by the end of fiscal 2015.

But even at that level, the capacity would only be 0.1 percent of the capacity of the existing hydraulic power plants in the Aizu region.

Moreover, Tohoku Electric in late 2014 introduced a maximum limit on the volume of electricity it would purchase from renewable energy sources.

Such moves are not enough to stop the “dump truck with broken brakes.”

“We will move to our next stage,” Sato said.

By focusing on the initial target of the bountiful water and forests of the Aizu region, Sato plans to start micro-hydro power generation and the use of woody biomass.

Thinking outside the box is in Sato’s genes.

In the late 1970s, his father opposed the redevelopment plan put together by the Kitakata municipal government. Instead, he wanted to promote Kitakata as a “town of warehouses” by capitalizing on the heritage of numerous old warehouses remaining in the city.

On one occasion, he spent 70 million yen to move and restore old warehouses. That led some to speculate that the older Sato had lost his mind.

However, there was huge untapped interest in viewing those old warehouses, and the tourism business took off in Kitakata.

The popularity of Kitakata ramen shops also helped to increase the number of tourists from about 50,000 in 1975 to about 1.2 million today.

The younger Sato says his battle with major utilities will require his own financial resources combined with the power of local communities.

To bring about that goal, Sato contacted all 17 municipalities in the Aizu region about investing in Aizu Denryoku. In March 2015, four towns and villages decided to inject capital.

“Things are looking more interesting now,” Sato said. ”


Japan nuclear regulator leaning toward restarts — The Diplomat

” Japan’s nuclear sector is undergoing intense scrutiny this summer as changes to the governing panel of the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) are underway, and nuclear energy suppliers go through the NRA’s inspection process in order to restart their reactors. Additionally, news of the government’s handling of the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and the ongoing cleanup effort, are influencing the discourse on whether or not to speed up the restart Japan’s nuclear program.

On Tuesday, the lower house of the Diet approved two new commissioners for the five-member panel of the NRA, as two of its current commissioners will step down in September. One of the new commissioners, Satoru Tanaka, has proven controversial. A professor of nuclear engineering at Tokyo University, Tanaka is generally regarded as pro-nuclear, remarking eight months after the nuclear disaster that it could be safe to reconsider returning to nuclear energy. He has also, according to Reuters, accepted roughly $100,000 over the last 10 years from nuclear power companies and related sources (including Tepco Memorial Foundation, affiliated with the energy company responsible for the Fukushima Daiichi plant), a fact that has prompted the anti-nuclear lobby to question his ability to be objective. Industry analysts interviewed by Reuters maintained that most experts in Tanaka’s field would receive this type of funding, given the close relationship between Japanese academia and energy companies.

Tanaka will be filling one of the spots left vacant by Kazuhiko Shimazaki, who has been outspoken in his opposition to returning Japan to nuclear dependence. Shimazaki has been criticized for saying two reactors sit upon active fault lines, and effectively stopping the restart of a reactor with vigorous safety demands. He has yet to comment on his retirement, although some NRA officials had hoped he would remain.

With Japan’s nuclear power companies struggling to remain profitable with all of the country’s 48 reactors offline, two of them are pushing for their safety inspections with the NRA to either be implemented or finalized as soon as possible. Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kepco) said it might restart its reactors at its Oi power plant if it receives a positive safety inspection, despite losing a Fukui District Court ruling on the matter. Two reactors at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai plant, shortlisted by the NRA for safety checks, could come back online in a few months. Additionally, Tohoku Electric Power Co. is seeking inspections for reactors at two separate power plants. It has requested a safety screening at its No. 2 reactor at the Onagawa power plant in Miyagi Prefecture, and at the No. 1 reactor at its Higashidori plant in Aomori Prefecture, both located in the northeast of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Tohoku Electric has built a 3-meter-high seawall on a location 13 meters above sea level at the Higashidori location in hopes of restarting in March of 2016, yet the screening is unlikely to start while the presence of active fault lines beneath the reactor is being investigated, according to Jiji Press.

As the government and nuclear power companies attempt to quickly restart the country’s nuclear program, Tepco shareholders are requesting copies of interviews conducted by the Cabinet Secretariat in the hopes of investigated the cause of the Fukushima accident. According to the Asahi Shimbun, they are prepared to file a lawsuit against the government if their request is denied. The shareholders want access to interviews with 772 people in order to assess if there was a collapse in leadership following the disaster.

Meanwhile, cleanup efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi No. 1 reactor continue to flounder. Tepco’s advanced liquid processing system (ALPS), designed to reduce the levels of radioactive substances in the water used to cool the damaged reactor, only has one of three main channels in operation. The other two channels are offline until later this month after cloudy water was detected, caused by radiation exposure that had deteriorated packing gaps in the channels.

The government may be able to increase the tempo of nuclear reactor inspections, and possibly restarts, after the two new commissioners join the NRA this September. Both the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and nuclear energy companies are adamant that this happen, yet for different reasons. Abe is intent on driving down energy imports that are hurting Japan’s trade balance due to the weak yen. Japan’s energy companies are becoming desperate to restart reactors that could increase profits, especially before the energy market is scheduled to be deregulated in 2016 and they face stiffer competition. At the same time, Japanese consumers face a difficult choice between escalating energy prices and living with the uncertainty of another environmental disaster. The level of tension between the public, government, and energy industry will continue to dictate the pace of nuclear restarts. However, the return to a convergence of government policy with the interests of nuclear power companies will accelerate the process. ”


Uranium poised for bull market as Japan reviews reactors: energy — Bloomberg Sustainability

” Japan, once Asia’s largest nuclear power producer, may restart one in every five reactors this year after safety reviews following the Fukushima disaster, driving uranium back into a bull market.

The nation may open 10 units, according to the median of 11 analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Japan has been without atomic power since September, with its 50 reactors shut pending inspections by regulators. Uranium will average $41 a pound this year, or 14 percent more than now, a separate survey of five analysts showed.

Uranium slumped 51 percent since the earthquake and tsunami that led to the meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in March 2011. Stronger demand will boost profit for producers from Kazakhstan to Australia, some of whom canceled projects and closed mines as prices tumbled. Opening reactors will make Japan less dependent on imports of fossil fuels that contributed to a record current-account deficit.

“The Japan story is a major one still driving the uranium market,” said Jonathan Hinze, a senior vice president at Ux Consulting Co. in Roswell, Georgia, who forecasts 10 reactors to restart. “There are positive developments on the demand side, which should couple with slower supply increases, ultimately resulting in higher prices later this year.”

Safety Inspections

Prices fell 21 percent to $34.40 in 2013, the biggest drop since 2008, and averaged $38.45 last year, according to Ux, which provides research on the nuclear industry. They dropped to $34 in August, an eight-year low. The atomic fuel traded as high as $152 in 2007, according to the data starting in May of that year. Uranium closed at $35.90 yesterday.

Tokyo Electric, Japan’s biggest power utility, and Tohoku Electric Power Co. are among seven companies that applied for safety inspections on 16 reactors, according to the Nuclear Regulation Authority. The NRA has no fixed schedule to complete the checks, it said in November. Masaya Okuyama, a Tokyo-based spokesman for the regulator, declined to comment on when the inspections will be finished.

The forecasts in the Bloomberg survey ranged from six restarts to as many as 16. Tohoku Electric last month applied for checks on the No. 2 reactor at its Onagawa plant, according to a statement to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Chugoku Electric Power Co. is seeking an assessment of the No. 2 unit at its Shimane site, according to a statement Dec. 25. Ten units will probably pass the NRA’s safety reviews, Sankei reported Jan. 20, citing unidentified people close to the regulator. … ”

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