Regaining trust

29 September 2000

The main theme at the 33rd Japan Atomic Industry Forum Annual Conference was "Regaining trust in nuclear energy – now and in the future".

The central element of the 33rd annual conference of the Japan Atomic Industry Forum (JAIF) was how the industry could recover from the JCO accident at Tokai Mura. The third day of the conference was held in Tokai village, and the mayor and some local residents addressed the meeting. The conference also considered the problems brought about by the falsification of MOX fuel inspection data, and the effects on Japan's plans to recycle plutonium.

In 1999, three new nuclear units went into operation: Mochovce 1 in Slovakia (440MW VVER), Wolsung 4 (700MW Candu), and Ulchin 4 (1000MW PWR) in South Korea. Construction work began on seven new units, at Hamaoka 5 (1380MW ABWR) and Shika 2 (1358MW ABWR) in Japan, Lungmen 1 and 2 (1350MW twin ABWRs) in Taiwan, Qinshan III-2 (700MW Candu) and Tianwan 1 (1000MW VVER) in China and Beloyarsk 4 (800MW FBR) in Russia. In Japan, the Ohma plant (1383MW ABWR) was officially incorporated into the national development plan, as has Shimane 3.

All of this resulted in an optimistic tone for the future. Joe Colvin, president and CEO of the Nuclear Energy Institute, stated that both the US and Japan were heavily dependent on imported oil, but that both countries had successfully reduced the burning of oil for electricity generation by the use, amongst other things, of nuclear power.

Furthermore, safety and operational standards on nuclear plants have been raised successfully. In the US, the output of nuclear plants had increased by 8% due to improved capacity factors (average of 86.8% in 1999). In March, the NRC issued a renewed operating licence for the two unit Calvert Cliffs plant. This decision, which was the first of its kind, extended the plant's operating life by 20 years. Already, 30% of the US' nuclear plants have announced that they will seek 20 year life extensions.

Previously, it had been expected that deregulation would have an adverse effect on nuclear plants, but it has in fact led to the sale of plants to nuclear generating companies which will be able to reduce production costs by sharing costs and experience among several units.

P Columbani, administrator general of the CEA, commented on deregulation, and the need for nuclear power to be competitive while at the same time improving safety and reducing environmental impact. One solution to this is to extend plant life. However, the only way the EU can meet its Kyoto commitment to reduce CO2 emissions by 8% is to build a minimum of 85 new nuclear plants. France has 58 PWRs in operation, and the nuclear construction programme is now complete. These plants produce 75% of the electricity in France. As the average age of the plants is only 14 years, this generation pattern will continue for at least the next 15 years, when the question of retiring or replacing the oldest units will come up for discussion.

The issue of environmental impact and climate change was a constant theme at the conference. The mayor of Tokyo, Shintaro Ishihara, said that nuclear energy was essential for the well-being of humanity, and that Japan should continue to develop the FBR. He also suggested building nuclear plants on reclaimed land in Tokyo. The president of the Republic of Palau, Kuniwo Nakamura, stressed the fragile nature of the ecology of the South Pacific islands. Not only are these islands threatened by rising sea levels caused by global warming, but a major oil spill from an oil tanker could devastate the ecology and destroy the tourist industry. He also indicated that the South Pacific Forum was greatly concerned about the safety of shipments of spent fuel and MOX fuel through the region.

Reactor development

Eugene Adamov, minister of atomic energy for the Russian Federation said that Russia would continue to develop fast reactors. Construction approval has been given for the BN-800 reactor at Beloyarsk, which should be completed in 10 years. The design has been changed to avoid a positive void coefficient, and the breeding ratio has been reduced to unity. A new type of fast reactor, known as BREST-300, is being developed at the BN-600 site. The coolant will be liquid lead and nitride fuel will be used. The blanket will be eliminated to avoid the production of weapons grade plutonium. At present, there is no schedule for building BREST-300, and international co-operation is being sought.

Steve Specker, president of GE Nuclear Energy, said GE had been concentrating on operating plants for the last 20 years, and was currently also working on construction of the Lungmen ABWRs. GE has a long-term interest in China and will continue to cooperate with Toshiba and Hitachi on the ABWR. He said GE liked the ABWR and its evolutionary developments and it had given up on small reactors.

Bodo Kalthoff, vice president of sales, nuclear power generation for Siemens KWU, said the European PWR (EPR) design work is completed and waiting for a customer. Siemens is working on the design of a 1000MW BWR.

Construction activities

Yong-Taek Park, executive vice president of Kepco, said that four units are under construction, and, according to the fifth national long-term development plan, nuclear capacity should reach 26,000MWe by 2015. Nuclear waste is being stored at the plants, and amounts to 50,000 drums of low- and intermediate-level waste and 4000t of spent fuel. Kepco is planning to build a full-scale commercial vitrification plant for the waste which will be operable from 2005. This should be capable of reducing the volume of the waste to 1/25 of its original volume. Kepco signed a turnkey contract with KEDO in December 1999 for Shinpo 1 and 2 in North Korea.

Li Zhongliang, vice president of CNNC, said that new plants would be required to supply the south west coastal regions of China, and that the next round of energy development plans were being drawn up. The first choice would be a domestically designed 1000MW PWR. He also said that China's 10MW pebble bed HTGR should go critical by the end of 2000.


Specker said that deregulation has given a boost to improving the performance of plants in the US. There had been a 10% improvement in output over three years, the equivalent of building 12 new plants. There was also, he said, a need to reduce the manpower employed on nuclear plants, which was currently three times that of the best fossil plants.

Takashi Kawamura, executive vice president of Hitachi, noted that electrical demand in Japan was growing at 1.8% per year. At present, 36.8% of the load was supplied by nuclear units, and this would rise to 45% by 2009. Already, over 50% of the electricity in large cities came from nuclear units. Japan had planned to build 20 more units by 2010, but probably only 13 will meet the target date. There was also a need in Japan to improve capacity factors as these had been restricted by regulatory requirements. Japan was also interested in further improving LWRs following the ABWR and APWR. Outputs greater than 1500MW would be required.

The Tokai Mura incident

The third day of the conference concentrated on the question of the Tokai Mura incident, and the consequences that this has had for the future of the plants and the industry.

The mayor of Tokai, Tatsuya Murakami, said the residents of the village were still living in fear. Until the first nuclear accident (the fire in the bitumen solidification facility in the Tokai reprocessing plant) there had been no serious opposition to nuclear power in Tokai, but that the number of residents opposed to the nuclear facilities had increased dramatically. The village, with a population of 34,000 in an area roughly 6km x 6km, has 14 nuclear-related facilities, and the village is considered to be 'the birthplace of nuclear energy' in Japan. In the past, the attitude had been to leave safety matters to the scientists, but this has changed. In future, people will be less willing to simply follow national policy.

The mayor claimed that the disaster prevention plan had been based on the assumption that no accident would ever occur. He called for an end to such an ideological attitude and said the policy makers should be prepared to listen to others.

Mr Isaka, a local business man, described the shock of the accident. Previously, the local people had relied completely on the specialists who promised that the plants were safe. He had gone about his normal life until the evening of the accident, but felt helpless because he knew so little about nuclear energy. He said: "We don't think about restarting, but our daily lives continue". He was determined to learn more about nuclear energy, and called for courses to educate the public.

Mr Terunuma is a farmer who grows sweet potatoes on 50 hectares of land. These are processed into dried sweet potatoes, a product for which the district is famous. He described the damage which he and his fellow farmers had suffered due to rumours. Although there was no contamination, consumers were concerned about health risks and were avoiding their products. Twelve families engaged in this type of farming have joined together in a campaign to try to recover their market.

Other speakers described some of the new organisations and changes which had been set up after the accident. On the government side, the Nuclear Safety Committee had been strengthened by adding more staff and having it report directly to the Prime Minister's office. The NSC now has its own independent secretariat. The framework of a plan for countermeasures to be taken in the event of a nuclear disaster is now in place. The private sector has set up the Nuclear Safety Network (NSNet) which is similar to WANO. Thirty five Japanese companies in the nuclear industry are working together to improve safety standards. The first peer review was carried out on the facilities of Mitsubishi Fuel Corporation, which is the only other company in Japan operating a uranium conversion plant. The organisation will also conduct seminars and education programmes to increase the safety awareness of its members. Another organisation called Tokai NOAH has been set up by the nuclear facilities located in Tokai

Mura to improve safety and cooperation between them.

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