Japan urges nuclear plants to prepare for decommissioning era
Tokyo: Japan's nuclear policy-setting body adopted a report Monday saying the country is entering an era of massive nuclear plant decommissioning, urging plant operators to plan ahead to lower safety risks and costs requiring decades and billions of dollars.
Twenty-four commercial reactors or 40 per cent of Japan's total are designated for or are being decommissioned.
Among them are four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that were severely damaged by the massive 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan. The annual nuclear white paper, adopted by the Japan Atomic Energy Commission, urges utilities to learn from US and European examples, especially those of Germany, France and Britain.
Japan hasn't yet completed the decommissioning of any reactors and doesn't have concrete plans for the final disposal of radioactive waste.
"Taking into consideration further increase of nuclear facilities that will be decommissioned, new technology and systems need to be developed in order to carry out the tasks efficiently and smoothly," the report said. "It's a whole new stage that we have to proceed to and tackle."
Japanese utilities have opted to scrap aged reactors instead of investing in safety requirements under post-Fukushima standards. The decommissioning of a typical reactor costs nearly 60 billion yen ( USD 560 million) and takes several decades.
Citing the government-run Japan Atomic Energy Agency's plan to scrap about half of its 79 research facilities, the report raised concerns about the weakening of basic research on nuclear energy.
Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan had 60 commercial reactors that provided about 25 per cent of the country's energy needs. Despite the government's renewed ambitions for nuclear power, reactor restarts are proceeding slowly as nuclear regulators spend more time on inspections.
Meanwhile, anti-nuclear sentiment persists among the public and makes it more difficult for plant operators to obtain local consent in making revisions to their facilities. Any plan related to nuclear waste storage tends to get strong resistance.
Since the Fukushima accident, only nine reactors in Japan have restarted, accounting for about 3 per cent of the country's energy supply, compared to the government's ambitious 20-22 per cent target.
In July, Tokyo Electric Power Holdings Co., or TEPCO, announced plans to decommission all four reactors at its second Fukushima plant, Fukushima Dai-ni, which narrowly avoided meltdowns in 2011.
The move followed eight years of demands by the local government and residents for the reactors' closure.
TEPCO said the decommissioning of Fukushima Dai-ni alone would cost 410 billion yen ( USD 3.9 billion) and would take four decades, but experts have raised concerns about whether those estimates are realistic for a company already struggling with the ongoing cleanup of the wrecked Fukushima plant, estimated to cost about 8 trillion yen ( USD 75 billion). Japan Atomic Power Co., which has been decommissioning its Tokai nuclear plant since 2001, announced in March that it was pushing back the planned completion of the project by five years, to 2030, because the company still has been unable to remove and store highly radioactive materials from the core.