TEPCO gears up for Fukushima decom, and lays ground for deregulation

23 November 2012

TEPCO has published a plan to implement corporate reforms, which also includes plans and schedules for research and development facilities to support decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi.

TEPCO Fukushima-Daiichi decommissioning R&D centre roadmap
TEPCO Fukushima-Daiichi decommissioning R&D centre roadmap

First, it has plans to start to remove spent fuel in unit 4 (scheduled to begin in 2013) a month earlier than planned, and finish a year earlier. Doing so will reduce the risks of a criticality accident on site.

Second, it said that it will set up several centres of excellence to share findings and lessons learned from the accident, while contributing to local reconstruction. Three specific centres are proposed, all of whose names are provisional: the International Reactor Safety Research Centre, the Mockup Centre/Equipment Maintenance Centre, and the International Research & Development Union. The latter would be the first established, in April 2013 (feasibility studies for areas such as groundwater, grouting, water treatment, waste treatment are already being carried out with the US Department of Energy), althoug the basic design of the other two is scheduled to be completed in the same period. A year later a mockup of the bottom part of the containment vessel is scheduled to be finished to help work out how to repair the leaks in the RPVs. In 2016, the equipment maintenance centre is due to start up, and the following year a radioactive sample analysis facility will start up, the first part of the International Nuclear Reactor Safety Research Centre (which would eventually include hot cells and gloveboxes). In addition, an acadeic research centre in Hamadori would be established to foster decommissioning skills development.

Third, it will establish a Fukushima Revitalisation Headquarters in Fukushima prefecture, headed up by a permanently-stationed vice president, to perform local management operations such as compensation, decontamination and support operations. TEPCO said that all its employees (100,000/year) would take turns to have a voluntary posting there.

Much of TEPCO’s Intensive Reform Implementation Plan, released in early November, deals with matters such as expanding corporate communications, improvements in safety culture, cost reduction, management reforms. Partly, the utility is responding to internal and external investigations of cultural issues in the organisation. But it is also responding to government plans for deregulation of the electricity industry.

TEPCO published a Comprehensive Special Business plan in May, but in a management policy towards restoration for the next fiscal year that begins in April 2013, it said that the situation has since changed: TEPCO has been losing money and staff, and the government has proposed deregulation: “The Japanese government has established a basic policy for the full deregulation of the electricity market this summer with the details to be decided at the end of this year. Hence, properly addressing the changes that will come about due to this deregulation in the next few years is also now an urgent priority for us.” Also, discussions about the future of nuclear power are ‘hampering attempts by electric power companies to forecast the restarting of nuclear power plants.’

It estimates that costs of compensation for affected individuals, and the cost of high-dose region decontamination, may exceed JPY 5 trillion (the amount contributed by the Japanese industry’s Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund law). It said that the costs of decommissioning R&D, removal of spent fuel and final disposal, ‘may be staggering and potentially far exceed available reserves.’ It said it has already allocated JPY 1 trillion to decommmissioning.

Given the direct and indirect costs of accident cleanup, on on hand, and the strong market competition likely to occur in a deregulated electricity market, then, TEPCO says that it must change as a company. It also asks that the government take over the financial burden of Fukushima cleanup, which it says is ‘excessive for any one company or industry to bear’:

“TEPCO has chosen to quickly return itself to a dynamic private company; capable of raising funds and making investment decisions autonomously based on market principles in a competitive environment, thereby retaining its management base, such as technological and human resources, and continuously fulfilling its obligations. To achieve this end, in addition to full-scale management efforts, we will also request that the government promptly consider establishing a new support framework to handle the huge amount of financial risk that exceeds the limit under the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund Law and the cost of decommissioning of the reactors.”

At the same time, it says that it remains morally responsible: “As a party to the accident, TEPCO’s main priority is fulfilling its responsibilities for the accident.”

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