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Japan Nuclear Update

NRA Says Sendai Reactors Safe for Restart

July 17, 2014—Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has given preliminary approval to Kyushu Electric Co. for the restart of the two reactors at its Sendai nuclear energy facility. All of Japan’s 50 commercial reactors are currently off-line as they are inspected to ensure they comply with new safety standards put into place after the Fukushima Daiichi accident in 2011.

A report published by NRA on July 16 said the Sendai station has met the new safety standards, which cover three main areas: design-basis safety standards, severe accident measures, and safety standards for earthquakes and tsunamis, NucNet reported.

Before the two Sendai reactors are restarted, a month of public consultation will be held, during which local authorities will have a chance to weigh in. The final approval for restart could be granted by October, according to the Japanese media.

Japanese Parliament Reduces Role of Atomic Energy Commission

June 26, 2014—Japan’s parliament, the Diet, has approved a reduction in the role of the Atomic Energy Commission to overseeing plutonium and advising on radioactive waste policies. The Diet’s Upper House approved the AEC’s new role on June 20, following the Lower House’s approval on June 3.

The AEC was the country’s top nuclear energy policy maker from its creation in 1956 until 2001, when its function was changed to an advisory role. The change will reduce the number of AEC commissioners from five to three and AEC staff members from 25 to 14.

TEPCO Releases Bypassed Groundwater into Ocean

June 19, 2014—Tokyo Electric Power Co. June 14 released 1,443 metric tons (381,000 gallons) of uncontaminated groundwater from the hilltop behind the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean.

TEPCO measurements showed levels of cesium-134, cesium-137 and total beta radiation to be below minimum detection levels. Independent measurements found tritium concentrations of 91 becquerels per liter, well below the World Health Organization’s drinking water limit of 10,000 Bq/l.

The company initiated its “groundwater bypass system” in May to divert the flow of naturally occurring clean groundwater around the Fukushima Daiichi site and into temporary storage tanks.

TEPCO to Add Two ALPS Filtration Plants at Fukushima Daiichi

June 12, 2014—Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to install two additional advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) plants at the Fukushima Daiichi facility. ALPS units are designed to remove 62 nuclides from radioactively contaminated water after the cesium isotopes are removed by other equipment.

The site currently has one ALPS designed to treat 750 metric tons of water per day, which has operated periodically on a trial basis since March 2013.

One new unit will treat 750 metric tons per day, while a second unit will treat 500 metric tons per day and include the ability to replace adsorption columns and remove most of the cesium and strontium.

Japanese Economic Organizations Call for Faster Reactor Restarts

June 12, 2014—Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to install two additional advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) plants at the Fukushima Daiichi facility. Three Japanese economic organizations have urged the government to accelerate the restart of shutdown nuclear energy facilities that have earned necessary safety approvals in order to restore a stable supply of inexpensive electricity.

The Japan Federation of Economic Organizations, the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Japan Association of Corporate Executives cited economic concerns caused by the increase in fossil fuel imports since the country’s 50 commercial reactors were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Only two of Japan’s reactors—Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi 3 and 4—have been restarted since 2011, but neither of those are currently operating.

The three groups said Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority should speed up the safety examination process and called for improvements in the NRA’s “personnel structure” and for clarification of restart “processing periods.”

TEPCO Begins Releasing Fukushima Groundwater to Ocean

May 22, 2014—Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has begun releasing clean groundwater at the Fukushima Daiichi site into the ocean. The company said it had discharged 561 tons of water using a groundwater bypass system.

“We would like to express our sincere appreciation to many parties, including Fukushima prefecture and members of the fishing industry, for their understanding in the operation of the groundwater bypass, which plays an important role among the countermeasures to suppress the increase of contaminated water,” said Naohiro Masuda, president of the Fukushima Daiichi Decontamination and Decommissioning Engineering Company. “In operating the bypass, we will pay strict attention to the management of the relevant facilities and, in conjunction with analysis by third parties, maintain the water quality to conform to operational targets.”

The groundwater bypass, one of several strategies being employed to reduce the accumulation of contaminated water at the plant, aims to intercept clean groundwater as it flows downhill toward the sea and reroute it safely around the facility. The water is temporarily stored to verify its quality prior to release.

Once it is in full operation, the groundwater bypass is expected to reduce the amount flowing into the building basements by up to 100 tons per day, a reduction of 25 percent. The bypass will help reduce the volume of water that becomes contaminated and then needs to be cleaned and stored on site. This, in turn, is expected to reduce the burdens on the storage facility by slowing the pace of contaminated water accumulation.

This is a major first step in an agreement between TEPCO and Fukushima fishermen (see Nuclear Energy Overview, April 10) to permit discharge into the oceans near the plant and should pave the way to ultimately dealing with the vast amount of contaminated water stored on site.

International observers, including NRC Chairman Allison Macfarlane, have recommended cleaning up the water stored on site to very high standards and safely discharging it into the ocean.

On May 14, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy visited Fukushima Daiichi and reiterated the U.S. commitment to assist in the cleanup.

“We are committed to providing support as long as it is necessary,” said Kennedy. “The United States government will offer our experience and capabilities, in particular, toward the near term resolution of ongoing water contamination issues.”

TEPCO posted photos of the water discharge on its website. Details on water quality monitoring are also available.

TEPCO Finds Sources of Leak From Reactor 3 at Fukushima

May 22, 2014—TEPCO has identified the source of a leak from reactor 3 at the Fukushima Daiichi site. TEPCO said the leak came from a pipe connected to the primary containment. TEPCO said it is investigating ways to plug the leak and said that identifying it was a “big step forward” toward removing melted fuel from the reactor. 

Japanese Energy Plan Calls for Restart of Nuclear Plants

April 17, 2014—Japan’s cabinet has approved an energy plan that calls for the restart of the country’s nuclear energy facilities, World Nuclear News reported.

The country’s fourth Basic Energy Plan, the first to be approved since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident, emphasizes energy security and clean energy initiatives and designates nuclear energy as an “important power source that supports the stability of the energy supply and demand structure.”

Fossil fuel imports and greenhouse gases emissions have both increased since the shutdown of Japan’s 48 operating nuclear energy facilities, which had previously supplied nearly a third of its electricity. Applications have been submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Authority to restart 17 of the off-line reactors, the first of which could restart later this year after NRA review.

JAIF Report Describes How Three Japanese Plants Survived March 2011

April 10, 2014—A new report published by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum describes how the Fukushima Daini, Onagawa and Tokai nuclear energy facilities avoided reactor accidents as a result of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that damaged four of the six Fukushima Daiichi reactors.

An English translation of the report, based on an analysis conducted by the Nuclear Safety Division of the Atomic Energy Society of Japan, says that at Fukushima Daiichi both off-site and on-site emergency power were completely lost when the earthquake damaged transmission towers and off-site power facilities and the tsunami inundated all but one emergency diesel generator—at reactor 6, which was down for maintenance. 

By contrast, one of four off-site power lines survived at Fukushima Daini, one of five lines was undamaged at Onagawa, and although all three lines were lost at Tokai, two of the three emergency diesel generators survived.

The report also notes that Fukushima Daiichi was only prepared for a tsunami height of 20 feet (6.1 meters), less than half of the 43-foot wave that hit the facility. Onagawa, which experienced a similar wave height, was prepared for a 45-foot wave. Japan’s new Nuclear Regulation Authority has since imposed much stricter tsunami preparedness requirements. 

Sendai 1 and 2 Pass Inspections, Move Closer to Restart

April 10, 2014—Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has completed inspections of seismic faults and seawater walls being built at Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Sendai nuclear energy facility and found no problems with the plant’s earthquake and tsunami preparedness. Sendai 1 and 2 are among the reactors that Japanese utilities are intending to restart after NRA completes post-Fukushima safety evaluations.

As part of those safety evaluations, Kyushu Electric is preparing to submit three technical requests to NRA on how it will revise the reactors’ original systems to comply with the new safety regulations, on subsequent construction plans, and on the utility’s safety maintenance program.

Any reactor restart licenses will not be issued by NRA, but by the Agency of Natural Resources and Energy.

Japan Government Will Support Ohma New Build Project

April 10, 2014—Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government would explain the safety case of the Advanced Boiling Water Reactor that has been under construction at the Ohma site in the northern part of Japan’s Honshu (or Main) Island.

The project was 40 percent complete when the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, and has been suspended since. Suga was responding to a lawsuit filed by Hakodate City in Hokkaido, Japan’s northern island, to “indefinitely freeze” the Ohma build. Japan’s only reactor intended to operate on a full mixed oxide fuel core, Ohma still has a valid construction permit issued in 2008.

Ohma’s utility, Electric Power Development Co., is planning to submit to the Nuclear Regulation Authority its project improvement plan and an application for a safety review. Suga said the government would explain NRA’s response to those submittals.

UNSCEAR Finds No Increases in Cancer or Birth Defects from Fukushima

April 3, 2014—A final report from the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) concludes that “no discernible changes in future cancer rates and hereditary diseases are expected” due to any radiation exposure resulting from the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident.

The study found that prompt evacuation of populations from the plant’s vicinity helped reduce radiation exposures by a factor of 10 to levels that were “low or very low.” Compared to an average lifetime dose from natural background radiation in Japan of about 17 rem, the average additional lifetime dose people in Fukushima are expected to receive is about 1 rem.

UNSCEAR notes that the mass relocation of people has caused health effects of its own. “The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to radiation,” the report said.

The report, “Levels and Effects of Radiation Exposure Due to the Nuclear Accident After the 2011 Great East-Japan Earthquake and Tsunami,” is available online. It used the most detailed available models to describe individual doses based on age, movements and radionuclide distributions, and agrees with the findings of UNSCEAR’s preliminary report from late 2012.

Another study by the World Health Organization in early 2013 came to the same conclusions as UNSCEAR—that health effects from radiation are expected to be too small to identify.

Health effects become apparent in people receiving 10 rem or more over a short period of time. About 160 plant workers who may have received doses at these levels will be monitored over the long term. Health authorities will also continue to monitor the group of children most exposed to radiation, who are at a “theoretical” risk of elevated thyroid cancer incidence.

Fukushima Fishermen Approve Water Bypass Plan

March 27, 2014—After eight months of negotiations with Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima prefecture Fishermen’s Union has granted permission for TEPCO to allow groundwater that bypasses the damaged Fukushima Daiichi reactors to be discharged into the ocean.

The union approved TEPCO’s proposal to sink a line of 12 wells on the landward side of the nuclear reactors and pump groundwater out of them before it mixes with contaminated water in the basements and pipe trenches near the reactors.

About 400 metric tons of groundwater per day has been mixing with the contaminated basement water that has been used to cool the reactor cores, adding to TEPCO’s water treatment and storage problems on the site. The new plan’s approval should help alleviate the buildup of stored water, currently at about 340,000 metric tons.

In addition, the company is building two additional ALPS water decontamination systems, increasing total water treatment capacity from 750 metric tons to 2,000 metric tons a day by October. Under the union agreement, decontaminated water may be discharged to sea if measured levels of cesium-134 or -137 are below 10 becquerels per liter, one-tenth the level deemed safe for drinking water by the World Health Organization.

NRA Approves Revised Seismic, Tsunami Assumptions for Sendai Plants

March 27, 2014—Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has decided to conduct post-Fukushima safety assessment reviews for Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s Sendai 1 and 2 pressurized water reactors on a priority basis.

The NRA has approved the company’s revised worst-case seismic ground motion and tsunami height assumptions for the two reactors, the first approvals so far. An NRA spokesman could not say when the rest of the safety review work for Sendai would be completed.

NRA Makes Radiation Council Appointments

March 27, 2014—The NRA has approved the appointments of eight candidates to its Radiation Council, the agency’s first advisory body. The membership consists of university teachers and representatives of government-run research centers.

The NRA also intends to establish a reactor safety examination committee and a nuclear fuel safety examination committee.

Dale Klein Praises TEPCO’s Progress in 3 Years Since Accident

March 13, 2014—Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) and the people of Japan have made great progress in the three years since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi and their commitment to eventual success is a cause for optimism, former U.S. NRC Chairman Dale Klein said this week.

Klein, who currently chairs a group of international experts advising TEPCO on nuclear reform, marked the third anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that led to the accident with his speech at the Foreign Press Center Japan. Klein noted the progress that has been made at the site to date, including the safe removal of nuclear fuel from reactor 4 and safety enhancements at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, which TEPCO intends to restart.

Klein said the world wants Japan’s efforts “to succeed because people understand that if we are to successfully manage climate change and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, nuclear power will be an important part of the mix. But they also know that public confidence in nuclear power can be enhanced, or diminished, by what happens here.”

NRA, JNES Complete Merger

March 6, 2014—Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority has completed its previously announced merger with the Japan Nuclear Energy Safety Organization. JNES’s 400-person staff is expected to give the 600-strong NRA greater resources for processing reactor restart applications. The Japanese cabinet approved the merger last October.

NRA was established after the 2011 Fukushima accident as an independent regulator to replace the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which was part of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. NRA is currently overseeing decommissioning work at the Fukushima Daiichi site and also will be processing at least 17 applications to restart Japan’s idled nuclear reactors.

JNES was established in 2003 as an expert body to inspect nuclear installations and undertake safety analyses. Some of JNES’s experienced staff is expected to take mentoring roles to help existing NRA staff develop their competency.

METI Unveils Pro-Nuclear Energy Policy

Feb. 27, 2014—Three years after the Fukushima accident, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s draft energy policy gives nuclear energy the status of an “important power source that supports the stability of the energy supply-and-demand structure.”

METI’s Basic Energy Plan also compares nuclear energy favorably with the expensive fossil fuel imports Japan has relied on since idling its 48 operating reactors after the accident, characterizing nuclear as “a quasi-domestic source that gives stable power, operates inexpensively and has a low greenhouse gas profile.”

The ministry’s recognition of nuclear’s role in providing Japan’s industrial base with a secure, reliable and low-emission energy supply and its recommendation to restart idled reactors is a turn from the previous government’s policy that recommended a gradual phase-out of nuclear energy by the end of the 2030s.

The Nuclear Regulatory Authority is currently considering applications for the restart of 17 reactors, the first of which could be back in operation this year. The government's draft energy policy, which presents no new obstacle to this process, is expected to be approved by the cabinet in March.

The NRA meanwhile has approved a 10-year life extension for Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane 1, the first Japanese reactor to obtain one. Chugoku applied for the extension last September. Japanese regulations allow an initial 40 years of reactor operation plus two 10-year extensions.

New Study Finds Fukushima Radiation Doses Insignificant

Feb. 27, 2014—A new study by the Kyoto University Graduate School of Medicine finds that most Fukushima residents are unlikely to receive radiation doses as a result of the accident that are significantly different from normal background radiation levels.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, evaluated radiation dose rates from deposited cesium in three areas within 12 miles to 30 miles of the Fukushima Daiichi site. It took into account external doses as measured in August-September 2012 as well as estimated internal doses from inhalation and dietary intake.

The study found that in 2012, the mean annual radiation dose rate associated with the Fukushima event—most of which was from external sources—was close to Japan's average annual background exposure of 200 millirem per year and comparable to variations in background dose across Japan. At these levels, the study concluded, increases in cancer rates are not likely to be epidemiologically detectable—similar to findings made by the World Health Organization in January 2013.

Japan Poised to Shift to Pro-Nuclear Policy, Speed Up Reactor Restarts

Feb. 20, 2014—Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party could move the country toward a new pro-nuclear power energy policy by the end of March, corresponding to the end of the current fiscal year, LDP Chairwoman Sanae Takaichi said Feb. 16.

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy is to draft the policy, which if approved by the party would reverse the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led government’s policy to phase out nuclear power by the end of the 2030s.

The government also intends to press ahead with restarting reactors whose safety assessments have been approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. ANRE would issue operating licenses to those reactors, after local government consent has been obtained. So far 17 of Japan’s 48 operating reactors have applied to NRA for safety reviews with a view to restart.

NRA Says Ohi Plant Seismically Sound

Feb. 13, 2014—Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority has formally approved an assessment by a five-member team that found Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Ohi nuclear plant site to have no risky seismic faults.

The team concluded in September that a major seismic fault at Ohi did not result from an earthquake within the past 230,000 years. Under Japanese regulations, safety-related reactor equipment cannot be built on a fault that was formed by an earthquake that occurred within the past 120,000 to 130,000 years.

Ohi is the first site that NRA has determined has no seismic risk. Including Ohi, six sites are being seismically reviewed: Tsuruga, Higashidori, Mihama, Shika and the Monju prototype breeder reactor.

IAEA Report Tracks Fukushima Remediation Efforts

Jan. 30, 2014—Decontamination efforts near the Fukushima Daiichi plant are progressing efficiently, according to the final report of an expert mission organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency to review remediation and reconstruction activities in the Fukushima prefecture.

The report says that progress to remediate affected areas and promote the return of evacuated residents has been made since the first IAEA mission in October 2011. It says authorities must continue to improve its current public outreach efforts and communicate that radiation dose rates below 20 millisieverts per year are acceptable and in line with international standards. IAEA also says that these estimates likely overestimate individual doses and called for greater efforts to measure individual doses with personal dosimeters. IAEA also notes efforts to further reduce air dose rates, which the report says are more accurate than ground-level doses.

The IAEA report also notes successful implementation of food safety measures and progress toward the creation of temporary storage facilities for contaminated materials and interim storage facilities.

TEPCO to Pay Out $40 Billion in Fukushima Compensation

Jan. 23, 2014—Tokyo Electric Power Corp. said in a “New Comprehensive Special Business Plan” that it intends to increase the compensation it awards to those affected by the March 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident to approximately $40 billion.

The company, which is now under government control, said it will increase the number of personnel involved in the rehabilitation of Fukushima prefecture and create an internal company to handle all decommissioning issues at the facility. Decommissioning the facility is expected to cost around $20 billion.

TEPCO also said in the plan that it intends to build a coal-fired power plant in the prefecture as well as a number of research and development facilities. The plan is a trilateral partnership between Japan’s central government, TEPCO and financial institutions. 

TEPCO to Restart All Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Reactors

Jan. 16, 2014—Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to eventually restart all seven of the reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa site. The company said it hopes to obtain authorization from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy to restart four of the reactors by March 2015 and the remaining three two years later.

TEPCO filed post-Fukushima safety review requests with the Nuclear Regulation Authority last September for reactors 6 and 7. The company hopes to restart reactor 7 by July this year and reactor 6 by August. Apart from NRA review, the consent of local governments is also a prerequisite to a startup authorization from ANRE.

Reactors 1 and 7 have been shut since August 2011, reactors 5 and 6 since January and March 2012, and 2, 3 and 4 since the Niigata earthquake of July 2007. 

TEPCO: Fukushima Daiichi Accident Due to Tsunami, Not Earthquake

Jan. 9, 2014—A new report from Tokyo Electric Power Co. says the core meltdowns and fuel damage at Fukushima Daiichi reactor 1 directly resulted from the March 11, 2011, tsunami destroying the emergency diesel generators and the consequent failure of the cooling systems.

A Japanese parliamentary commission had previously suggested that the earthquake may have damaged plant components resulting in a loss-of-coolant accident. However, TEPCO’s report, the first in the company’s continuing investigation into the causes of the accident, includes photographic and other evidence showing that reactor 1 survived the 9.0 magnitude earthquake intact.

The company is still studying why water injections into reactors 1, 2 and 3 from fire trucks failed to sufficiently cool the reactors.

The report and supporting documentation are available on TEPCO’s website.

Onagawa 2 Is 16th Japanese Reactor to Seek Restart

Jan. 9, 2014—Tohoku Electric Power Co. on Dec. 27 applied to Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority for a safety assessment to verify its compliance with post-Fukushima safety standards.

The new standards that nuclear reactor operators must meet cover the areas of design-basis safety, severe accident measures, and seismic and tsunami safety. Meeting NRA's new requirements is a prerequisite to a company seeking an operating license from the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy.

According to the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, the 825-megawatt Onagawa 2 boiling water reactor becomes the 16th to move toward restart. None of Japan’s 48 reactors are currently operating, since Ohi 3 and 4 were taken off line in September 2013 for scheduled maintenance and inspections.

Japan Plans Interim Storage Facility for Fukushima Decommissioning Waste

Jan. 9, 2014—The Japanese Ministry of the Environment said it will establish an interim storage facility for soil and other waste generated from decontamination work in areas affected by the Fukushima Daiichi accident.

The Japan Atomic Industrial Forum said the facility is intended for the centralized management and storage of the waste for about 30 years until its disposal outside Fukushima prefecture. Soil and waste generated from decontamination work until now have been stored at temporary sites.