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


Why the water cooling system at Fukushima nuclear plant stopped — Business Insider Australia

” The cooling system at the Fukushima nuclear plant is back online.

Earlier this morning, officials were “trying to establish what’s gone wrong” at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

A 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck 67km off the coast of Japan this morning, and tsunamis have been recorded hitting the east coast.

Officials at the plant originally said they had noted no irregularities with the plant, but at 9.15am AEDT, news came through that the plant’s water cooling system “appears to have stopped”, although the operator of the plant said there was no immediate danger.

At 10.05am AEDT, NHK confirmed the cooling equipment for the spent nuclear fuel pool in the reactor number three of Tepco’s Fukushima number two power plant wasn’t working.

An official spokesperson from operator Tepco says the earthquake “shook” water in the cooling tanks temporarily, leading to a decline in levels.

That triggered a warning and the plant’s cooling systems stopped, possibly as a precaution to stop them in turn overheating.

The cooling pumps have now resumed and the water in the towers is cooling again.

In the two hours the pumps were off, the spent rods heated the water from 27.7C at 6.10am to 29.5C. However, officials say that was “within safe range” and the water would have to heat for a week to reach a dangerous level.

The plant currently stores around 1000 tanks of contaminated water, and no leakage has been noted yet.

Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga says, “We have been informed that there is no immediate risk of radiation leaks or rise in the temperatures (of the cooling pool).” ”

by Peter Farquhar


NRA starts clock ticking on Monju, advising operator be replaced — The Japan Times

” The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Friday asked the science minister to find a new operator to manage Monju, the troubled prototype fast-breeder reactor that is the centerpiece of the nation’s nuclear fuel cycle program.

The NRA said it lacks confidence that the semi-public Japan Atomic Energy Agency can continue running the costly and accident-prone facility in Fukui Prefecture.

Although the request is nonbinding, the NRA said the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which oversees the Monju project, has about six months to look for a new operator and report back. If it fails to find one, the ministry should “fundamentally review” what to do with the reactor.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka did not comment on whether this means Monju will be decommissioned. He said it is too early to say.

But he said the recommendation has “significant meaning” because it is the first since issued by the NRA since its creation in 2012.

Tanaka was speaking after talks with science minister Hiroshi Hase in Tokyo on Friday.

If the ministry fails to find a new operator that meets the NRA’s approval, Monju, which has cost taxpayers more than ¥1 trillion, may face decommissioning.

Later in the day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government “should take the recommendation from the NRA very gravely,” considering the slew of problems it has faced.

“We’d likely to respond sincerely,” Suga said.

But the government will maintain its policy of establishing a nuclear fuel recycling system regardless of Monju’s fate, Suga added.

“There is no change in our policy to promote (the nuclear fuel cycle), as decided in the Basic Energy Plan,” Suga said. The plan was adopted in April last year.

Hase said the ministry understands the gravity of the situation and will take action.

Fast-breeder reactors such as Monju use sodium as coolant and are designed to recycle nuclear fuel into another power source. Japan lacks significant energy sources of its own.

However, the Monju reactor has only briefly entered operation. It has been idle since a fire triggered by a vast sodium leak in 1995.

In 2012, it was found that JAEA had failed to inspect nearly 10,000 devices at the reactor despite being required to do so. Subsequently, dozens of monitoring cameras were found not to be functioning, and inspectors found a significant leak of radioactive liquid because an alarm had been ignored for more than a year.

In May 2013, the NRA ordered the suspension of Monju’s operation until the establishment of a system to prevent further safety slips.

JAEA President Toshio Kodama met NRA members earlier this month and vowed to improve the situation. The agency’s move Friday was an apparent sign that it has had enough — and an admission that despite repeated warnings the ministry has failed to come up to scratch. ”


Updated 4/26/2015: Fukui anti-nuclear protester arrested for landing drone on Abe’s office — The Japan Times; Drone with ‘minuscule’ quantity of radiation found on Japan PM’s office roof: media — Reuters

Updated April 26, 2015, The Japan Times:

” A man was arrested Saturday in Fukui Prefecture for allegedly flying the drone found earlier this week on the roof of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s official residence, investigators said.

Yasuo Yamamoto, 40, of the city of Obama, presented himself to the Fukui Prefectural Police on Friday evening and said he landed the drone on the rooftop of the prime minister’s office to protest the government’s nuclear energy policy.

Yamamoto had sand with him and what appeared to be the controller for a drone, sources said. He was quoted as saying he had put sand from Fukushima Prefecture, home to the meltdown-ridden No. 1 nuclear plant, into a plastic bottle that was attached to the unmanned aircraft.

Tokyo police confirmed Friday that the bottle contained sand and were trying to determine whether it came from Fukushima, sources said.

According to the Metropolitan Police Department, Yamamoto said he flew the drone toward the prime minister’s office at 3:30 a.m. on April 9, nearly two weeks before it was discovered Wednesday. Police were speculating that the device had landed more recently.

Yamamoto told investigators he carried out the stunt by himself, and police searched his home in Obama on Saturday. He is being held on charges of forcible obstruction of official business.

Meanwhile, a blog entry apparently posted by Yamamoto on April 12 says he left his hometown on April 7 and arrived in Tokyo’s Akasaka district, near the prime minister’s office and the Diet building, early the following day with the intention of launching the drone.

However, the posting said bad weather forced him to give up that day, so he returned to the area on April 9 and flew the drone out of a parking lot.

The drone, bearing a radiation sticker and carrying a radioactive payload, was found on the roof of the prime minister’s office at about 10:30 a.m. Wednesday. According to the police, the drone was equipped with a camera, what appeared to be two flares, and a brown container of a liquid that later turned out to have a small amount of cesium in it.

Aerial footage of the roof of the prime minister’s office taken on April 15 shows a black object matching the color of the drone.

Fukui Prefecture is the nation’s nuclear heartland, hosting over a dozen nuclear reactors on the Sea of Japan coast. Last week, the Fukui District Court endorsed a citizens’ bid to halt Kansai Electric Power Co.’s effort to restart two idle reactors at the Takahama nuclear plant. The government says it has no plan to push for restarts, but the utility is appealing the injunction, granted on safety grounds.

The drone was also equipped with a global positioning system that provides information about its flight path, sources said. A digital camera on the drone, believed to be a Phantom 2 sold by Chinese manufacturer DJI, was connected to a transmitter that can send recorded footage to a remote monitor. The Phantom is only sold in white, but the one found on the rooftop had been painted black.

On Friday, police and ministry officials held their first meeting at the prime minister’s office on drone regulation and began exploring legislation to regulate flights above sensitive facilities. Plans under consideration include obliging drone buyers to register their name and address.

“We need to immediately establish” legislation on drone usage, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at the meeting, which included officials from the ministries that oversee transportation, internal affairs, and trade and industry.

The government is also expected to weigh the introduction of a licensing system, maintenance rules and mandatory insurance, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry.

Suga described the incident as “a grave issue in terms of crisis management.” He said drones “could have a substantial impact on public safety and privacy protection, depending on how they are used.”

Toshihiro Nikai, chairman of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s General Council, said Friday that lawmakers need to submit a bill to prohibit drones from being flown above important facilities.

Suga said the previous day that the government will consider legislation to regulate drone flights before the Diet’s summer recess from late June. ”


* * *

Posted April 23, 2015 , Reuters:

” (Reuters) – A drone marked with a radioactive sign was found on the roof of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office on Wednesday and media said it tested positive for a “minuscule” amount of radiation.

The radiation was so low it was not harmful to humans, media quoted police as saying.

Public broadcaster NHK said the bomb squad was called in to take away the drone, which was carrying a small camera and a water bottle.

Police would investigate, government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said, adding that the country may need to consider regulating the devices.

“This situation concerns the center of Japanese government, the prime minister’s office, and we will take every necessary step, including a detailed investigation by police,” said Suga, noting how Japan had began studying the issue after a drone landed in the White House grounds in January.

Suga declined to comment further.

Abe was in Indonesia on Wednesday attending an Asia-Africa summit. An official at the prime minister’s office declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear who sent the drone or why. But a Japanese court on Wednesday approved the restart of a nuclear power station in the southwest of the country, rejecting worries about nuclear safety in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima radiation disaster.

The ruling was a boost for Abe, who wants to reboot nuclear power to help cut reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports.

Televised aerial footage from the prime minister’s office showed the drone with propellers covered under cardboard and later a blue tarp.

Broadcaster NHK said an official at the premier’s office found the drone and that the device was around 50 cm (20 ins) in diameter. No-one was injured.

Japan, which has a proven track record in electronics and robotics, is looking to fast track industry-friendly regulation to give its drone sector an edge over the United States.

The government is considering the Fukushima nuclear plant, wrecked by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as a test ground for robots and drones.

A Japanese company is planning to mass produce six-propeller drones that could survey radiation levels and help with the government’s decommissioning effort, media have said. ”


Kagoshima court rejects injunction against Sendai reactor restarts — The Japan Times

” KAGOSHIMA – The Kagoshima District Court on Wednesday dismissed a provisional injunction to block the restart of two more nuclear reactors in the prefecture, brushing aside the concerns of local residents worried about the safety of the plant.

The decision clears another hurdle for reactors at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant to begin starting up as early as June, as the government pushes to revive Japan’s idled nuclear industry four years after the disaster in Fukushima began.

The ruling stands in sharp contrast to last week’s decision by the Fukui District Court to block the restart of reactors at the Takahama plant in Fukui Prefecture over safety concerns.

The Kagoshima District Court found no “irrationalities” in new safety standards adopted after the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns, ruling in favor of the plant operator.

The Kyushu Electric Power Co. plans to fire up one of the reactors in July, a watershed moment for the nation as it would be the first reactor restart under the revised rules.

The court’s decision could inject momentum into the government’s policy to restart nuclear power plants that have passed the safety standards, although the public remains divided on the matter.

Plaintiffs, including residents near the Sendai plant, are expected to appeal the ruling, their lawyers said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the top government spokesman, said there will be no change in the government’s policy of bringing the Sendai nuclear power plant back online. All 48 of Japan’s commercial reactors remain offline amid heightened public concerns about safety following the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 plant.

Four years after a quake and tsunami wrecked that facility, prompting mass evacuations, the Sendai reactors operated by Kyushu Electric have cleared most of the regulatory hurdles and could begin starting up as early as June.

The focus of the court case was on whether the operator of the Sendai plant has adequate measures in place to guard against earthquakes and whether it had weighed the chance of a volcano erupting nearby. The effectiveness of existing evacuation plans for local residents was also called into question.

Presiding Judge Ikumasa Maeda ruled that the new safety standards were crafted based on consultations among experts.

“There are no irrationalities,” he said.

The judge also said the operator calculated the biggest possible earthquake motion after taking into account “uncertainties” over natural phenomena, and thus the decision to restart the power plant was legitimate.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to reboot reactors to help reduce high energy costs, but opponents are using the courts to block the revival of nuclear power, which is widely unpopular, especially in areas where they can’t get local governors or mayors to prevent a restart.

Kansai Electric has four of its 11 reactors under injunction and recently announced plans to decommission two units.

Tepco, which is dealing with the Fukushima No. 1 debacle, is tussling with local authorities to get another power station up and running — Kashiwazaki Kariwa, the world’s biggest. It sits on the Sea of Japan coast in Niigata Prefecture.

Chubu Electric Power Co. was forced to shut its Hamaoka plant in Shizuoka Prefecture because of its proximity to offshore tectonic plates and is facing legal action. ”


Updated 4/15/2015: Government calls Taiwan’s food-labeling move ‘regrettable’; Taiwan to check waste shipments from Japan for radiation — The Japan Times

Updated April 15, 2015, The Japan Times: ” The government on Tuesday called Taiwan’s plan to tighten regulations on Japanese food imports because of fears of radioactive contamination “extremely regrettable.”

The top government spokesman called on Taipei to use what he called “scientific findings” in drafting its rules.

“So far we have explained safety of foods produced in Japan and asked (Taiwan) to make judgment based on scientific findings,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference. “It’s extremely regrettable that Taiwan will strengthen regulations this time.”

On Monday, Taipei said it will introduce new regulations, possibly in mid-May, requiring all food imported from Japan to carry labeling declaring which prefecture it came from.

Four years after the meltdown at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Taiwan still bans the import of food produced in Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba prefectures.

In March, Taiwan found that some products from those areas had been reaching its consumers. The scandal led to public outcry, prompting Taipei to announce the new import regulations.

Japan conducts sampling of foodstuffs for radioactive materials, and few samples are now being found to exceed safety levels.

Some wild vegetables, wild game, wild mushrooms, freshwater fish and bottom-dwelling ocean fish are among those that exceeded safe Japan’s mandated safety levels over the past year, and were thus banned from shipment.

Between April 1 last year and March 1, around 292,000 such samples were tested for radioactive cesium. Of them, 502, or 0.17 percent, exceeded the government regulation level, the health ministry said. In fiscal 2012, the rate was 0.85 percent. ”


* * *

Posted Nov. 6, 2014, The Japan Times: ” TAIPEI – Taiwan will conduct radiation checks on some types of container cargo arriving from Japan, the island’s legislature said on Wednesday.

The body’s Finance Committee ruled that waste materials such as plastic, scrap metal and paper must be checked with radiation meters upon arrival at the island’s four seaports: Keelung, Taipei, Taichung and Kaohsiung.

Jao Ping, director general of the Customs Administration agency, told reporters the measure will go into effect as early as this week.

On Monday, the committee passed a more onerous resolution requiring all container cargo from the ports of Tokyo and Yokohama to undergo radiation testing at the Port of Kaohsiung starting Nov. 17. It then backtracked on the decision.

The resolution was sponsored by Legislator Lu Shiow-yen of the ruling Nationalist Party, who argued that all cargo containers coming from or routed through Japan should be required to pass through Kaohsiung for radiation checks.

Kaohsiung Customs is the only division equipped with radiation detection monitors.

Lu’s proposal drew strong opposition from the Ministry of Finance and Customs Administration.

An official told reporters on Monday that the measure was unfeasible because it would lead to extra transportation expenses and cause major problems for exporters and importers.

The official also revealed that authorities would propose a revision to the resolution when the committee met again on Wednesday.

Lu’s office said she filed the motion because she saw a report in the Liberty Times newspaper in August saying that since the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011, Kaohsiung Customs had detected 226 cargo containers originating from or routed through Japan with radiation levels exceeding the legal limit.

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, Taiwan banned food imports from five of Japan’s 47 prefectures — Fukushima, Ibaraki, Gunma, Tochigi and Chiba — and has been conducting random radiation checks on 11 categories of imported foods.

Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration announced late last month that it is planning to introduce regulations requiring foods imported from Japan to carry prefecture-specific labels of origin, with some items needing to undergo radiation checks by Japanese authorities.

Those regulations are expected to take effect as early as next year if no objections are filed within a 60-day window starting Oct. 29. ”