Half way - a review of post Fukushima actions in Asia30 July 2013
After worldwide calls to action came in the wake of the tsunami that devastated Fukushima Daiichi in March 2011, nuclear power plants have been shoring up their defences for more than a year already. Much has already been accomplished; many projects are only months away from realization. By Will Dalrymple
The country most affected by the Fukushima accident is, of course, Japan. Excluding Fukushima Daiichi 1-4, which have been permanently shut down, Japan's total nuclear fleet consists of 50 reactors, 46 GWe capacity, according to data from Japan Atomic Industry Forum (JAIF). Currently only two reactor units are operating: Ohi 3&4, 2.4 GWe. Thirteen units at five stations on Japan's eastern coast near where the earthquake struck (13 GWe, and including Fukushima Daiichi 5&6) remain shut down due to the tsunami or subsequent governmental orders. But the largest proportion of units offline (35 units, 30.6 GWe) are on Japan's west coast, shut down for their periodic inspection outage, and awaiting the political will that would allow them to restart.
At the moment, the country's plan for nuclear energy remains unclear. The new liberal democratic party administration of Shinzo Abe, who came into office in late 2012, said that it would determine the direction of nuclear power within three years. It said it would restart nuclear power plants whose safety has been confirmed by the regulator.
Takashi Imai, president of Japan Atomic Industry Forum, said in his address to the 46th annual JAIF?conference in April, "We hope for the appropriate political judgement as soon as possible."
Which is not to say that everything is at a standstill. Upgrades are being carried out at many of the shuttered units. For instance, Chubu Electric Power Company, which disconnected its Hamaoka 4 & 5 in May 2011 at the request of the government, announced in December that it had completed an 18m-high (57 foot), 1.6 km-long (1 mile) seawall at the site. It now plans to increase the wall's height even further to 22m above sea level by December 2013. Other upgrade work includes installing tsunami protection or watertight doors, enhancing waterproofing of equipment rooms, as well as the installation of emergency power equipment on high ground. (For example, gas turbine generators 40m above sea level with underground fuel storage; emergency diesel generators (EDGs) mounted on rooftops). The company is also installing new emergency seawater intake systems inside watertight buildings that will take over the function of the outdoor seawater pumps in case of flooding. Chubu has also started the experimental operation of a radar system at Omaezaki, 7km east of the site, to monitor incoming tsunami waves, and plans to implement an array of severe accident countermeasures, including the installation of filtered containment venting equipment, over the next two to three years.
Seawalls have also been completed at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (for units 5-7; construction is ongoing for units 1-4). TEPCO also announced in April that it plans to install 50 passive autocatalytic recombiners at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa 1, and 56 at unit 7 by the end of June 2013. PARs have also been installed at Takahama 3&4, according to Kansai Electric Power company, and will be installed at its other units. In October, French vendor AREVA announced that it would equip the Japanese reactor fleet with 100 PARs.
The much-criticised Japanese nuclear regulator, the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, has now been completely disbanded. Its successor, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, was established in September. Then-prime minister Yoshihiko Noda appointed its chairman (Shunichi Tanaka) and its four commissioners under the rights of the nuclear emergency declaration. In January, after the Abe government took office, they were approved retroactively by the Japanese parliament. The new agency was established with greater separation from the government's nuclear promoter (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which remains) as an affiliated organization of the ministry of environment. The NRA is in charge of safety regulation of reactors, nuclear fuel materials, nuclear security and environmental monitoring.
The new regulatory structure is likely to soon have new laws as well. In February, NRA submitted a first draft of nuclear safety standards for consultation; at that time, a second round was also envisaged before the new regulations become law, likely in July. In the introduction, the February overview document, which the NRA translated into English, said: "Various investigation reports and studies on Fukushima underlined certain vulnerability and failures in Japan's existing nuclear safety systems, procedures and standards, including a lack of the back-fit system that applies revised standards to existing nuclear reactors. An absence of effective severe accident management structures, vulnerability in countermeasures against the risk of earthquakes and tsunamis, and insufficient preparations against common cause failures are examples. These lessons had to be squarely faced in the [sic] formulating new safety standards before the authorities can hope to restore public trust in the nation's peaceful nuclear development and to prevent a recurrence of another nuclear accident."
The new standard proposes reestablishing the design basis, post-Fukushima, strengthening resistance to natural phenomena, and establishing four or more layers of defence-in-depth, including severe accident management, building specific safety facilities with a second control room to suppress radiation release due to containment damage from terrorist actions such as a plane strike, and constructing an emergency control centre. It also proposes the installation of filtered containment vents, hydrogen PARs, facilitating multiple alternate sources of makeup water and coolant water, installing batteries with a minimum eight hours' life and providing onsite power from fixed and mobile sources for a minimum of 24 hours.
The new safety standards will also apply to future reactors and the two advanced boiling water reactors officially under construction: Shimane 3 and Ohma. Work on both units was suspended after Fukushima with Shimane 3 around 93% complete and Ohma 1, in Aomori prefecture, around 40% completed. In October 2012, J-Power announced that it intends to resume construction of its 1383 MW Ohma ABWR 'with the understanding of local communities,' however proposed schedules for the start-up of either unit have yet to be announced.
Japanese utilities also cancelled or indefinitely deferred many of the new reactor projects that were envisaged before the Fukushima accident. These include TEPCO's Fukushima Daiichi 7&8 and Tohuku's Namie-odaka, both in Fukushima prefecture. One Japanese utility that still envisages building new reactors is Chugoku Electric Power Company, which proposes two ABWRs at Kaminoseki on Nagashima Island. It confirmed its intention to proceed with the project in October.
Also, the first steps toward deregulation of Japanese energy markets have been taken. The proposed measures, which appear to still need Parliamentary approval, would be rolled out in three phases from 2015-2020, and begin by establishing a body to coordinate supply and demand across the grid, then allow liberalization of retail power generation and sales, and then legally separate generation and transmission functions, according to a JAIF report. In February, industry body the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan commented on the proposals. It made two requests that it said would need to be preconditions of effective reform: that the reforms should be carried out once a stable supply system had been secured, and that consideration should be given to improving the business environment.
Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power, the South Korean state-owned nuclear utility, estimates that the cost of Fukushima safety upgrades to its 22 units at five sites will amount to about US $1 billion, according to Bum-cheol Kim, senior manager, KHNP post-Fukushima team. A national post-Fukushima review identified 50 improvements to be made, 46 of which were for KHNP, and four for other institutions. In addition, it has identified 10 other actions based on review of international case studies and further internal analysis. Its schedule calls for all 56 to be completed by 2015. As of early May, 24 were completed, including extending the height of the Kori seawall (see picture). A further 11 are planned to be completed by the end of the year. Short-term actions include installation of an automatic seismic trip system, improvement of the firefighting plan, reinforcements of safety inspections and arrangement of radiation protection equipment for close NPP neighbours. Long-term actions include work such as improvement of emergency alarms, installation of extra injection loops, installation of containment venting, reinforcement of cooling water intakes and studying design criteria for sea level at NPP sites.
A Korean consortium led by KEPCO is also under contract to build four 1380 MW APR-1400 reactors at the Barakah site in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), around 250 km from Abu Dhabi. The first unit began construction in July 2012, and work on a second unit is expected to start this summer. That design, which is based on South Korea's Shin-Kori 3&4, has been adapted to take into account lessons learned from Fukushima. Changes to the plant design include proposals to install passive autocatalytic recombiners in the spent fuel pool building, extending the life of batteries from 8 to 16 hours, and extending on-site fuel supplies to 24 hours' worth. Also, to combat station blackout the plan calls for two emergency diesel generators and an auxiliary AC diesel generator to be linked via a cross-tie design.
Early post-Fukushima reviews suggested no great need to act urgently in India. Shut-down PHWRs can cool the reactor core with natural convection flow; the seismic profile of India makes the risk of tsunami slight; adequate core cooling has been maintained for 17 hours in a station blackout situation during the Narora 1 turbine hall fire in 1993. Still, there is little new to report. A bill introduced in March 2012 to replace the existing nuclear regulator, the Atomic Energy Review Board with greater independence, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority, is still before Parliament. Reports from 2012 suggest that near-term work includes enhancing reliability of cooling by adding external cooling water hook-up points, additional training, revising severe accident management programmes (2013; regulatory review 2014), introduction of automatic seismic reactor trip where there is none, and revising off-site emergency preparedness and response (2013), and containment venting (regulatory review 2014; implementation 2015). The AERB said in 2012 that it had "taken steps" to review safety improvements. It plans to revise regulatory guides on intervention levels and offsite emergency preparedness for 2014. Longer-term goals include enhancing the SAM programme, detailed design of long-term safety enhancement measures (2015) and creation of an emergency response facility that can withstand severe flooding at each of its six current nuclear power plants.
In response to a parliamentary question, Indian minister V. Narayanasamy said that structured training on emergency operating procedures for contingencies against floods, tsunamis, cyclones, earthquakes and fires is "regularly conducted" at Indian nuclear power plants. Figures show that there has been a marked increase in the number of training programmes since Fukushima, with 195 in 2011 and 141 in 2012, compared with an average of 66 per year over the four-year period from 2007 to 2010.
One issue that India has faced in the wake of Fukushima has been increasing public animosity towards nuclear power, manifested in particular by public protests against the Kudankulam and Jaitapur projects. State-owned operator Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) and the authorities responded by intensifying public outreach and communication efforts. For instance, the government appointed a 15-member expert group to provide clarifications on the issues raised by agitators against the commissioning of Kudankulam. That group concluded that the plant "is designed and engineered...in line with the current international safety requirements and principles," and said that factors such as seismicity, tsunami and tropical storms were taken into consideration at design stage.
Commissioning of Kudankulam 1&2 has, nevertheless, been delayed significantly by 2011/12 protests, and is now slated for commercial operation this year. Last month (May 2013) India's Supreme Court found in favour of commissioning Kudankulam 1&2, in judgement of a lawsuit filed in September 2012 arguing that starting up the plant violated local residents' human rights, and which objected to other aspects of the plant's development.
Taiwan, which has six operating reactors at three sites (Chinshan, Kuosheng and Maanshan) is also facing a similar situation; opposition to its planned two-unit Lungmen ABWR plant has intensified following Fukushima. The fate of the project, which began construction in 1999, could now be in the hands of the public. In April, the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party advanced a bill that could mandate a national referendum on the fate of Lungmen. Upgrade work at Lungmen has, however, continued with the installation of back-up emergency diesels, the heightening of protective dikes and the construction of a freshwater tank above the plant that would use gravity to flood the reactor vessel.
As for the operating reactors, Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council (AEC) has required them to undergo comprehensive safety inspections (following the same criteria as the EU stress tests) and make any necessary improvements. Those have included upgrading earthquake and tsunami resistance as well as reexamining safety procedures (emergency operating procedures, SAMGs and extreme damage mitigation guidelines). Among other measures, AEC has required Taiwan Power Co. to install an additional seismically-qualified gas-cooled emergency diesel generator (EDG) on higher ground, to install an alternate ultimate heat sink, passive autocatalytic recombiners, to perform a volcanic PRA, and to construct a seismically-isolated technical support centre building, according to Yi-Bin Chen of the AEC.
In March, an expert team from the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency was invited to Taiwan to conduct a 12-day peer review of the stress tests. A similar review by ENSREG is envisaged for later this year.