Tag Archives: Japan nuclear energy

Get Used to It: Japan as Nuclear Weapon State

nucear fuel cycle image from federation of electric power companies of japan

See also Security Strategies of Threshold Nuclear Weapon States

Japan…had 54 reactors in operation before the Fukushima accident..,,. After the accident, which was of unprecedented scale, Japan promptly decided to stop all remaining nuclear power reactors in the country, but was not able to phase out nuclear energy like Germany. Instead, operation of these halted reactors has resumed since Shinzo Abe returned to the Prime Minister’s office in spite of massive protests and the objection of the majority of the public; Sendai 1 Reactor in Kagoshima Prefecture was restarted on August 11, 2015 and Sendai 2 Reactor successively went online on October 15, 2015….

Japan is the only country in the world that is permitted to reprocess its spent fuel, which means it can possess plutonium — a weapon-usable material…Originally, Japan envisioned fast breeder reactors (FBR) for generating electricity with plutonium separated from reprocessing. Japan’s sodium-cooled FBR Monju, which is supposed to produce more fuel than it consumes and thus is regarded as a dream reactor, has never been realized mainly because of insuperable technical problems, despite astronomical investment that exceeded 1 trillion Japanese Yen….

Meanwhile, it has never been easy to start up the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village, Aomori Prefecture. This reprocessing plant was initially planned to start its operation in 2000, but completion of reprocessing plant construction has been delayed more than twenty times. Moreover, the construction cost has surged up to approximately 22 billion USD, almost four times higher than the original cost planned back in 1989. And on November 16, 2015, Japan Nuclear Fuel Ltd. (JNFL), the operator of reprocessing plant, announced that the operation of the reprocessing plant is postponed again to as late as September 2018. JNFL’s President Kenji Kudo reported that a separate plant for producing MOX fuel had also been delayed by early 2019….

Nonetheless, the Japanese government still shows reluctance to withdraw from reprocessing with the excuse of its scarcity of natural resources. Without a technical way out, however, the plutonium stockpile of Japan continues to rise. As for July 2015, its plutonium stockpile reached 47.8 metric tons – 10.8 tons in Japan, 16.3 tons in France, and 20.7 tons in the United Kingdom –  the fifth largest next to the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and the United States. Considering the fact that Japan is not a nuclear-armed state, this number is obviously an outlier. For instance, Germany, which also does not possess nuclear weapons, only had 3 tons of separated plutonium at the end of 2013…. [B]oth Rokkasho Village and Aomori Prefecture intimidated the central government into adhering to [opening the Rokkasho reprocessing plant]. [T]hey contended that the more than 3,000 tons of spent fuel in the area should otherwise be transferred back to the reactors where the spent fuel was originally produced. This alternative however, is politically and technically implausible because the host communities of reactors also expect spent fuel to be removed from their backyards almost immediately…Japan’s unusual surplus of plutonium creates tremendous political pressures for the Japanese government. Japan’s neighbors like China and South Korea often become suspicious of Japan’s real reasons for having that amount of plutonium.

Furthermore, Japan’s recent performance triggered a backlash even from the IAEA, whose head is a former Japanese diplomat; 640 kilogram of unused plutonium was not included in Japan’s annual reports to IAEA in 2012 and 2013. IAEA experts criticized this as “inappropriate omission” though JAEC explained that the stock was part of MOX fuel stored in a reactor that was not in operation during that period of time, and accordingly assumed exempt from reporting requirements. Japan has insisted that it would be impossible to inappropriately separate plutonium at the reprocessing plant in Rokkasho Village under the IAEA’s 24-hour surveillance. However, surveillance burdens for safeguards have aggravated simply because of the absolute amount of stockpile.

Excerpts from  Eunjung Lim, Japan’s Nuclear Trilemma,  Jan. 19, 2016

Fourth Generation Nuclear Reactors: Japan and France

astrid

Shinzo Abe (Japan)  and French President Francois Hollande agreed to “intensify their civil nuclear research,” according to a joint statement issued Monday following a meeting between the two leaders in Paris.

As part of Abe’s state visit, the Japanese ministries of economy and science and France’s atomic research institute signed an accord to cooperate on a project for a so-called fourth generation fast-breeder reactor called Astrid. Fast-breeder generators are designed to produce, or “breed,” more fuel than they consume for reuse in nuclear fission…

In 2011..France earmarked €652 million ($905 million) to develop a 600-megawatt Astrid prototype by around 2020 with a plan to deploy a fleet starting in 2040. Astrid stands for Advanced Sodium Technological Reactor for Industrial Demonstration.  The generator is said to be of the fourth generation because it would come after a model being built now in France, Finland and China called the European Pressurized Reactor (EPR), which is considered third generation.

Future reactors like Astrid would be able to produce as much as 100 times more power using the same quantity of uranium fuel. They would also burn long-lived radioactive waste.

Even with Japan’s nuclear industry hobbled by the aftermath of Fukushima, the Abe government has been actively marketing Japanese nuclear technology around the world. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. and Areva signed a $22 billion agreement in May 2013 to build a nuclear power plant in Turkey, the first major order for Japan since the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

France decided to close its Superphenix fast-breeder reactor in 1998 following radioactive leaks. Japan’s Monju reactor is idled and has been plagued by challenges including a sodium leak. India has its own fast-breeder reactor program.

Excerpt, Japan to work with France on future fast-breeder atomic reactor, Bloomberg, May 6, 2014

See also Fourth Generation Nuclear Reactors

Fukushima Nuclear Waste will Go Here

Okuma, Futaba and Nahara disposal locations Fukushima

Fukushima prefectural authorities have asked the Environment Ministry to reduce from three to two the number of sites it plans for the temporary storage of radioactive debris generated by the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster.  Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato on Feb. 12 submitted a request to Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and Takumi Nemoto, the minister in charge of post-quake reconstruction, asking them not to build a storage facility in the town of Naraha so that its residents can return home earlier.  Based on the request, Ishihara said the Environment Ministry will review the initial plan to erect facilities in Naraha, as well as the towns of Okuma and Futaba.

The central government intended to construct intermediate storage facilities in the three towns, all in Fukushima Prefecture, that are capable of storing 13.1 million, 12.4 million and 2.5 million cubic meters of debris, respectively. The smallest of the sites was to be built in Naraha.

However, Sato argued in his request that if collected debris were burned to reduce its volume, the two larger sites could accommodate all the waste.  The governor also proposed that the ministry build a plant to process the ash from debris with radioactive values at 100,000 becquerels per kilogram or lower in Naraha instead…Elsewhere though, many other municipalities in the prefecture have urged the prefectural government to quickly facilitate the building of those facilities because radioactive soil and other associated waste generated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster are filling up temporary storage sites throughout the prefecture. The Environment Ministry estimates that 1.6 million cubic meters of debris was stored across Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of last October.

Excerpt, Fukushima seeks limit on radioactive waste disposal sites, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN, Feb. 13, 2014

Japan and Nuclear Power: Fukushima to 2013

fukushima fuel rods

[T]he building [Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant,] is still unstable, and its spent-fuel storage pool highly dangerous. This month (Nov. 2013) Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) will start plucking out over 1,500 radioactive rods from the pool in order to store them more safely. Over the pool a crane waits to start the procedure, and a yellow radiation alarm stands at the ready. Experts call the operation the riskiest stage of the plant’s clean-up so far… Engineers will have to take out each fuel assembly one by one without mishap, and overcome the risks of fire, earthquake and the pool boiling dry. The fuel rods can ignite if they lose coolant, or explode if they collide.

The rods are being moved just when trust in the utility that owns Fukushima Dai-ichi is at a low point. A series of leaks of highly radioactive water this year, and other dangerous accidents including a power cut in March—a rat chewed through the wiring—has brought it under fierce attack. In August the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) said leaks of contaminated water were a level-three or “serious” incident on an international scale that goes up to seven. Now some are calling for the removal of spent-fuel rods from reactor four to be closely monitored by foreign experts.

Even the pro-nuclear ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) wants to take TEPCO in its current form out of the decommissioning process, which will take 40 or more years. A new entity, including the utility’s staff but separate from its commercial side, would take charge. Finding a solution to the problem of TEPCO’s structure (among other things, the company is financially precarious) would help the government’s efforts to switch nuclear power back on.

At the moment Japan is entirely without nuclear energy, but that is unlikely to last for long. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, is pushing for as many of the country’s 50 usable reactors to restart as soon as possible after passing safety checks by the NRA. The need to import energy has pushed up the price of electricity and added to a series of trade deficits since 2011. In September TEPCO won approval from the governor of Niigata prefecture to apply for a safety check in order to restart two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest… Junichiro Koizumi, a popular LDP former prime minister, has stepped in, calling for an immediate end to nuclear power. After he broadcast his views at a press conference, a poll showed that three-fifths of those who were surveyed backed his plan.

Japan and nuclear power: High alert, Economist, Nov. 16, 2013, at 47

How to Falsify Radiation Levels: Japan

 

Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare is investigating a report that workers at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant were told to use lead covers in order to hide unsafe radiation levels, an official said.The alleged incident happened December 1, nine months after a major earthquake and tsunami ravaged northern Japan and damaged the plant.”We’ll firmly deal with the matter once the practice is confirmed to constitute a violation of any law,” said the ministry official, who could not be named in line with policy.  An official with the plant’s operator, TEPCO, said the company received a report of the alleged incident Thursday from subcontractor Tokyo Energy & Systems. The report said a second subcontractor, Build-Up, created the lead covers and ordered workers to use them over their dosimeters, pocket-size devices used to detect high radiation levels.The TEPCO official could also not be named in line with policy.  okyo Energy & Systems said in its report that the workers never used the covers, the TEPCO official said. Japan’s Asahi Shimbun newspaper, however, reported Saturday that while some workers refused the orders to use the lead covers, nine others did use them for several hours.

The newspaper’s report cited plant workers, who described the lead covers as fitting snugly over the dosimeters inside the breast pockets of the workers’ protection suits.

TEPCO told CNN it ordered Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc. to conduct an investigation and is awaiting a reply.

Report: Japan nuclear workers told to hide radiation levels, CNN, July 21, 2012

Plutonium Production after Fukushima; the link between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons

Last year’s tsunami disaster in Japan clouded the nation’s nuclear future, idled its reactors and rendered its huge stockpile of plutonium useless for now. So, the industry’s plan to produce even more has raised a red flag.  Nuclear industry officials say they hope to start producing a half-ton of plutonium within months, in addition to the more than 35 tons Japan already has stored around the world. That’s even though all the reactors that might use it are either inoperable or offline while the country rethinks its nuclear policy after the tsunami-generated Fukushima crisis.

“It’s crazy,” said Princeton University professor Frank von Hippel, a leading authority on nonproliferation issues and a former assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology. “There is absolutely no reason to do that.”  Japan’s nuclear industry produces plutonium — which is strictly regulated globally because it also is used for nuclear weapons — by reprocessing spent, uranium-based fuel in a procedure aimed at decreasing radioactive waste that otherwise would require long-term storage.  The industry wants to reprocess more to build up reserves in anticipation of when it has a network of reactors that run on a next-generation fuel that includes plutonium and that can be reused in a self-contained cycle — but that much-delayed day is still far off.  Japanese officials argue that, once those plans are in place, the reactors will draw down the stockpile and use up most of it by 2030.  “There is no excess plutonium in this country,” said Koichi Imafuku, an official at the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy. “It’s not just lying around without purpose.”

In the meantime, the country’s post-Fukushima review of nuclear policy is pitting a growing number of critics who want to turn away from plutonium altogether against an entrenched nuclear industry that wants to push forward with it.  Other countries, including the United States, have scaled back the separation of plutonium because it is a proliferation concern and is more expensive than other alternatives, including long-term storage of spent fuel.

Fuel reprocessing remains unreliable and it is questionable whether it is a viable way of reducing Japan’s massive amounts of spent fuel rods, said Takeo Kikkawa, a Hitotsubashi University professor specializing in energy issues.  “Japan should abandon the program altogether,” said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of a respected anti-nuclear Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center. “Then we can also contribute to the global effort for nuclear non-proliferation.”

Von Hippel stressed that only two other countries reprocess on a large scale: France and Britain, and Britain has decided to stop. Japan’s civilian-use plutonium stockpile is already the fifth-largest in the world, and it has enough plutonium to make about 5,000 simple nuclear warheads, although it does not manufacture them.  Because of inherent dangers of plutonium stockpiles, government regulations require industry representatives to announce by March 31 how much plutonium they intend to produce in the year ahead and explain how they will use it.

But, for the second year in a row, the industry has failed to do so. They blame the government for failing to come up with a long-term policy after Fukushima, but say they nevertheless want to make more plutonium if they can get a reprocessing plant going by October.  Kimitake Yoshida, a spokesman for the Federation of Electric Power Companies, said the plutonium would be converted into MOX — a mixture of plutonium and uranium — which can be loaded back into reactors and reused in a cycle. But technical glitches, cost overruns and local opposition have kept Japan from actually putting the moving parts of that plan into action.

In the meantime, Japan’s plutonium stockpile — most of which is stored in France and Britain — has swelled despite Tokyo’s promise to international regulators not to produce a plutonium surplus.  Its plutonium holdings have increased fivefold from about 7 tons in 1993 to 37 tons at the end of 2010. Japan initially said the stockpile would shrink rapidly in early 2000s as its fuel cycle kicked in, but that hasn’t happened.

Critics argue that since no additional spent fuel is being created, and there are questions about how the plutonium would be used, this is not a good time start producing more. They also say it makes no sense for Japan to minimize its plutonium glut by calling it a “stockpile” rather than a “surplus.”  “It’s a simple accounting trick,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. “It’s laughable. And it sends the wrong signal all around the world.”

Officials stress that, like other plutonium-holding nations, Japan files a yearly report detailing its stockpile with the International Atomic Energy Agency. But it has repeatedly failed to live up to its own schedules for how the plutonium will be used.  From 2006 until three years ago, the nuclear industry said the plutonium-consuming MOX fuel would be used in 16-18 conventional reactors “in or after” 2010. In fact, only two reactors used MOX that year. By the time of the earthquake and tsunami last year, the number was still just three — including one at the Fukushima plant.  In response to the delays, the industry has simply revised its plans farther off into the future. It is now shooting for the end of fiscal 2015.

“There really is a credibility problem here,” said Princeton’s von Hippel, who also is a member of the independent International Panel on Fissile Materials. “They keep making up these schedules which are never realized. I think the ship is sinking beneath them.”

By ERIC TALMADGE and MARI YAMAGUCHI, Japan to make more plutonium despite big stockpile, Associated Press, June 2, 2012

See also http://www.jnfl.co.jp/english/

Nuclear Futures: Risks of industry-state collusion and geological instability

A year after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Taiwan finds itself, like many countries around the world, having to make a difficult choice between retreating from nuclear energy or committing further to it.  Yet no other country faces quite the same set of circumstances shared by the two East Asian neighbors, a combination of need and risk that guarantees whatever decision is made will be painful…

Taiwan has three nuclear power stations, two in the north and one in the south. All have operated safely and profitably for many years while providing nearly 20 percent of the island’s electricity.  But the facilities are getting old — the oldest is slated for decommissioning in 2018 and another in 2019.  Construction of a fourth plant began in 1998 in New Taipei City on the northeast coast, but various shutdowns due to engineering problems and policy reversals have delayed its completion.  The builder and operator of the facility, Taiwan Power Co., recently agreed to hire Japanese technicians to resolve problems discovered during construction, with officials hoping the new facility will become operational by 2014.  These technicians will be available because of the Japanese government’s freeze on new nuclear projects following the Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns — a policy many in Taiwan wish their government would also adopt.

Many of the arguments against the new plant in New Taipei City are the same ones made by opponents of nuclear energy worldwide. Some say it is too expensive, with overruns pushing the cost to nearly 300 billion New Taiwan dollars ($10 billion), nearly double initial projections.  Others point to the irresolvable problems of radiation leaks and disposal of nuclear waste.  Some criticize the facility because of its proximity to the island’s densely populated north. Others point out the length of time the project has taken to complete, meaning that its design and equipment have already become outdated.

Taiwanese authorities have tried to address the concerns, heightening official oversight and granting access to the press and nongovernmental agencies. A temporary facility for low-level radioactive waste is already operating on Orchid Island off Taiwan’s southeastern coast and the first interim dry storage facility for spent fuel rods will be completed at the reactor site in the latter part of this year for operation from 2013. [See also Nuclear Waste Exports]

Opponents are skeptical, however, and none more so than those who live near the new plant. They question the lack of a comprehensive disaster-management plan and express a deep distrust of authorities from whom they foresee the same slack regulation and industry-government collusion that doomed Fukushima No. 1.  “A lesson we learn from Japan’s nuclear disaster is that we can only depend on ourselves,” said a local resident who gave only his surname, Wu.

Of course, the most glaring similarity with Japan is not Taiwan’s regulatory shortcomings, but their mutual geological instability — both are at the convergence of major tectonic plates on the western Pacific Rim….  Similar [to Fukushima] natural disasters have occurred in Taiwan in the past and some worry about history repeating itself….

The most compelling argument in favor of nuclear development in Taiwan is again one it shares with Japan — there is little alternative.  As a modern industrial economy, Taiwan, like its neighbor, depends on cheap, reliable electrical power while possessing virtually no indigenous sources of fuel for generation.  Taiwan imports 99 percent of its energy, most of it coal, oil and natural gas. If it phases out nuclear power production by 2025, as critics propose, the Ministry of Economic Affairs estimates the additional cost to generate electricity with alternative energy sources would be more than NT$480 billion from 2014 to 2030.  If the electricity generated by the three nuclear power plants were eliminated, reserve capacity would drop from 20 percent to 6 percent, Taipower claims.

Excerpts, By KO SHU-LING, Taiwan, Japan share atomic power dilemma, Japan Times, Apr. 11, 2012