Tag Archives: Japan nuclear power

Dashing the Japanese Dream: nuclear self-sufficiency

Mihama Nuclear Plant, at Fukui Japan

Japan on December 21, 2016 formally pulled the plug on an $8.5 billion nuclear power project designed to realize a long-term aim for energy self-sufficiency after decades of development that yielded little electricity but plenty of controversy.  The move to shut the Monju prototype fast breeder reactor in Fukui prefecture west of Tokyo adds to a list of failed attempts around the world to make the technology commercially viable and potentially cut stockpiles of dangerous nuclear waste.

“We do not accept this,” Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa told ministers involved in the decision.”…Nishikawa strongly backed the project because of the jobs and revenue it brought to a prefecture that relies heavily on nuclear installations. He said decommissioning work for Monju would not start without local government approval.  Four conventional commercial nuclear stations lie in close proximity to Monju, earning Fukui the nickname “nuclear alley.”

The Fukushima crisis sparked strong anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan, making it harder to pursue projects like the Monju facility which has faced accidents, cover-ups and regulatory breaches since construction began in 1985.  The plant was built to burn plutonium derived from the waste of reactors at Japan’s conventional nuclear plants and create more fuel than it used, closing the so-called nuclear fuel cycle and giving a country that relies on overseas supplies for most of its energy needs a home-grown electricity source.

Excerpts from  Japan pulls plug on Monju, ending $8.5 bln nuclear self-sufficiency push, Reuters, Dec. 21, 2016

The Benefits of Being a Threshold Nuclear Power: Japan v. China

japan nucler fuel limited logo

China has urged Japan to return over 300 kilograms of weapons grade plutonium to the Unites States and to explain how it intends to resolve its surplus plutonium problem. At a regular press briefing in Beijing on 17 February 2014, and in response to a question on Japan’s plutonium stocks, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman stated:

“China attaches great importance to nuclear proliferation risks and potential threats posed by nuclear materials to regional security. China has grave concerns over Japan’s possession of weapons-grade nuclear materials… Japan’s failure to hand back its stored weapons-grade nuclear materials to the relevant country has ignited concerns of the international community including China.”

As reported in January 2014, agreement has been reached between the United States and Japan for the return of plutonium used in the Fast Critical Assembly (FCA) in JAERI Tokai Research Establishment, Tokai-mura, Ibaraki Prefecture. The formal agreement is expected to be concluded at the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March 2014. In its latest declaration to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and in its 2012 plutonium management report Japan stated that the FCA facility has the total of 331 kg of plutonium, of which 293 kg is fissile plutonium. The largest share of this plutonium was supplied by the United Kingdom in addition to that supplied by the United States.

Commenting further, the Chinese Foreign Ministry declared:

“China believes that Japan, as a party to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, should strictly observe its international obligations of nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear security. The IAEA requires all parties to maintain a best possible balance of supply and demand of nuclear materials as contained in the Guidelines for the Management of Plutonium. Japan’s large stockpile of nuclear materials including weapons-grade materials on its territory is an issue concerning nuclear material security, proliferation risks and big supply-demand imbalance.”

In addition to the call for the return of the weapon’s grade plutonium, the Chinese statement also raises a question over Japanese fuel cycle policy and its inability to use its existing plutonium stocks. With all 48 nuclear power reactors shutdown there is currently no demand for its separated plutonium as mixed oxide (MOX) fuel. However, Japanese policy continues to plan the commercial operation of the Rokkasho-mura reprocessing plant as early as October 2014, following a safety assessment by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA). In its latest declaration to the IAEA, Japan’s Atomic Energy Commission reported that as of 31 December 2012, Japan held 44,241 kg of separated unirradiated plutonium, of which 9,295 kg was stored in Japan and 34,946 kg was stored abroad. Japan’s plutonium program, its challenges and alternatives was recently addressed at a Tokyo symposium and in detailed analysis by IPFM.

As yet, there has been no official response from the Japanese government to the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement, which has been extensively reported through Chinese media outlets

By Shaun Burnie with Mycle Schneider, China calls on Japan to return weapons grade plutonium to the United States, International Panel on Fissile Materials, Feb 18, 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

Getting Rid of Nuclear Power is Just a Dream, Japan

Many Japanese have grown uneasy with nuclear power since the March 11 tsunami, which left more than 20,000 dead or missing and sent a plant in Fukushima into meltdown. Anti-nuke protesters took to the streets, and a heated debate ensued over the future of atomic energy. A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that 55 percent of Japanese want to reduce the number of reactors in the country.

Six months later, though, the nation seems to be sticking with nuclear power, at least for now. Unlike Germany, which accelerated plans to phase out atomic energy after Fukushima, Japan shows no signs of doing so. In recent days, utilities began newly mandated earthquake and tsunami stress tests, a first step toward restarting reactors idled for maintenance.

The world’s third-largest economy lacks other sources such as coal. An island nation, it can’t easily buy electricity from neighbors, as Germany can from France. Alternative energy is expensive. And nuclear technology is the nation’s pride, even a lucrative export.  Moreover, consensus-oriented Japan doesn’t have an outspoken public saying “No” to nuclear power. In a society that frowns upon defiance of the government, many Japanese are reluctant to join a movement that is often discredited as eccentric, even after Fukushima. That means Japan’s leaders have no real need to reject an industry that has helped fuel the country’s prosperity for decades.

March 11 may yet prove to be Japan’s Three Mile Island moment. No new plants have been approved in the U.S. since the 1979 disaster, and Japan has canceled two new ones already and shelved plans to increase its reliance on nuclear power from 30 to 50 percent.  [But]

Power shortages since the tsunami, coupled with an unusually sweltering summer, have helped business and its backers in government win the argument that Japan can’t afford to shut down its reactors.  The nuclear industry also benefits from close government ties. Bureaucratic ranks are packed with former utility executives. The same ministry both promotes and regulates nuclear power. Such relationships have endured, despite revelations of past cover-ups of radiation leaks and safety violations.

In the half year since the tsunami, commuter trains have often been dark inside, dizzyingly hot and more packed than usual because of reduced schedules. Neon lights disappeared from once-glitzy urban landscapes. Messages flashed on the Internet and electronic billboards, ominously warning about electricity use versus supply.  Manufacturers scrambled to cope. For automakers, the juggling included running assembly plants over the weekend and closing Thursday and Friday to reduce peak demand. “It has been totally exhausting,” said Toshiyuki Shiga, chief operating officer of Nissan Motor Co.

Before he resigned last month, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pledged to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear power and develop solar, wind and other sources. But he later played that down as his personal view and has since been replaced by Yoshihiko Noda, who is expected to be more willing to go along with industry-friendly bureaucrats.

Hiroshi Kainuma, a sociologist who has researched Fukushima, said residents of what he calls “nuclear villages” fear life without a plant. “Almost subconsciously, in their everyday, they have grown to support nuclear power,” he said.

Excerpts from YURI KAGEYAMA, Post-tsunami Japan sticking with nuclear power,Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2011

From Hiroshima to Fukushima: subsidies, weapons capability and gross negligence

How did earthquake-prone Japan, where two atomic bombs were dropped at the end of World War II creating a strong antinuclear weapons culture, come to embrace nuclear power just a few decades later?  Therein lies a tale whose main characters include two former prime ministers, a suspected war criminal, CIA agent and postwar media baron, and “Japan’s Charles Lindbergh,” a flamboyant pilot who encouraged people to search for uranium in their backyards.  It also involves thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, engineers and the pronuclear media collectively known as Japan’s “nuclear power village.”  At the same time it’s the story of those who opposed nuclear power from the beginning, warning of the potential dangers and arguing for decades that nuclear power wasn’t as safe as advertised, and reactors could be seriously damaged by an earthquake.

The saga begins in summer 1953. Future Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone was then a young politician studying at Harvard University. He learned from politically connected professors that the United States was about to allow the knowledge and technology that built atomic bombs to be exported for the peaceful use of nuclear power.  In December 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his “Atoms for Peace” initiative that provided U.S. nuclear technology to allies like resource-poor Japan that wanted to harness the atom.

Nakasone reacted immediately, leading efforts in the Diet in late 1953 and early 1954 to draw up Japan’s first-ever budget for nuclear power research. He assembled a group of like-minded allies in and out of government to help convince the public of the necessity to invest in this new technology.

 One of the most influential was Matsutaro Shoriki, head of the Yomiuri Shimbun and head of the newly created Nippon TV.  Shoriki was jailed after World War II as a suspected Class-A war criminal and sent to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. But he was released a couple of years later without being charged and allegedly became a CIA informant.  Shoriki was, like his friend Nakasone, a strong supporter of nuclear power.  Under his guidance, the Yomiuri led the way in selling nuclear power to the public as a safe, reliable and peaceful energy source.

On New Year’s Day, 1954, the paper began a series of articles titled “Finally, the Sun Has Been Captured,” which extolled the benefits of nuclear power.  Despite the Fukuryu Maru No. 5 incident of March 1, 1954, in which 23 Japanese fishermen were exposed to nuclear fallout from U.S. testing of a hydrogen bomb at Bikini Atoll, stoking public concern about anything nuclear, the Diet passed Japan’s first nuclear power research budget, worth-