Here’s the latest of our news bulletins from the ongoing crisis at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
New reports surfaced this week that 40% of TEPCO directors, who are being forced to resign at this week’s shareholder’s meeting as a result of poor leadership before and leading up to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, will receive so-called golden parachutes. Eight of twenty resigning directors will move to prestigious, high-paying jobs, including directorships, at Arabian Oil Co., Fuji Oil Co., Japan Atomic Power Co., and Toko Electric Corporation. Arabian Oil and Fuji Oil are subsidiaries of AOC Holdings, Inc., of which TEPCO is its biggest shareholder.
In an unusual move, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) issued a “caution” ruling against TEPCO this week, warning the utility to better explain its attempt to increase rates for business users this past spring.
In addition, the country’s Board of Audit will evaluate whether or not TEPCO is fulfilling obligations as a government-controlled entity. TEPCO received $42.5 billion in public funding in an effort to keep the utility afloat after the Fukushima nuclear disaster. The Board could issue a report within the next few months.
State of Nuclear Politics in Japan
In response to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s decision to restart Kansai Electric’s Oi nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture, residents across Japan gathered en masse last week to protest the decision, demanding the end of nuclear power. In Tokyo, 45,000 protesters joined Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe and journalist Satoshi Kamata on Friday. Last week, Oe presented 7.5 million signatures supporting the end of nuclear power to the Noda administration. More than 2,000 people demonstrated in Chiba Prefecture, demanding a nuclear-free Japan. And approximately 1,500 gathered in Osaka. Organizers say that interest in the protests is growing, fueled in part by Twitter and other social media outlets as well as increasing concerns about the dangers of nuclear power.
Four major utilities in the Kansai region—KEPCO, Hokkaido Electric, Kyushu Electric, and Shikoku Electric—announced that they plan to implement rolling blackouts for two hours a day this summer if residents’ usage exceeds 99% of the grid’s capacity. Medical institutions and government offices, including police and fire departments, will be excluded. In spite of that move, the government announced the same day that it would be lowering power saving goals across Japan from 15% to 10%. Voluntary power saving eases strain on the grid and might prevent the threatened blackouts.
Japan’s central government is apologizing for failure to publicize US radiation maps in the days following the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant last year. Officials from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) plan to travel to Namie to deliver their apologies in person. (Source: NHK)
Officials from the Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) made a notable announcement this week, saying that recycling spent nuclear fuel, previously the only option in the nation’s nuclear fuel policy, would be changed to include the possibilities of disposing of the fuel by burying it or combining the two methods. Fuel reprocessing, which has been riddled with problems for decades, has been stymied by the fact that the Rokkosho plant, where reprocessing was supposed to take place, has never effectively reprocessed spent fuel over the past 20 years. Meanwhile, spent nuclear fuel continues to build up at nuclear reactors around the country.
NISA said that it will increase its review of fault lines beneath Japan Atomic Power Company’s Tsuruga plant in Fukui Prefecture, after coarse rock fragments called crush zones were discovered beneath the plant. Crush zones can move together with fault lines during seismic activity, increasing its effects. NISA will post updates about the studies on its website. Fukui is also home to the controversial Oi reactors.
Yamaguchi Prefecture Governor Sekinari Nii said this week that he would not grant approval for a land reclamation project that would allow construction on Chugoku Electric’s Kaminoseki nuclear power plant. The plant’s current permit is set to expire in October; Nii noted that renewing it would be inappropriate until the country reviews its nuclear fuel policy, as well as establishes new safety guidelines for nuclear reactors.
The government said this week that it will release a final report on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster on July 23. An interim report released this past December was highly critical of TEPCO. Some panel members cautioned that there are issues and questions that have been left unresolved, since ongoing high radiation levels continue to prevent workers from determining the actual physical state of the crippled reactors.
Restart of the Oi Reactors
Kansai Electric officials said that 26 false alarms sounded at the Oi nuclear power plant this weekend, as workers are bringing the reactors there fully back online. KEPCO insisted that there are no problems at the plant, blaming the false alarms on weather conditions that caused irregularities in radio transmissions. Experts expect reactor #3 to be restarted on July 1, with reactor #4 to follow within a few weeks after that. Last week, KEPCO officials waited half a day before announcing to media sources and local government officials that low cooling water level alarms had sounded, raising concerns about the plant’s overall safety and KEPCO’s commitment to openly communicate with and protect the safety of local residents.
NISA officials said that they will increase monitoring of the Oi reactors, but said that they have no plans to immediately inform the media should troubles, including those that threaten the safety of nearby residents or the environment, arise.
New reports reveal that nuclear power utilities, which are often partially owned by local governments and municipalities, paid 72.7 billion yen in dividends over the past five years. Analysts say that municipalities are expected to pressure utilities to better reflect their concerns about safety and fair electricity rates.
For the first time since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster over 15 months ago, fishermen in Fukushima prefecture released two kinds of seafood for sale to the local public this week: octopus and whelk. The seafood was tested and showed no detectable levels of radiation. Residents showed eagerness to support their local fishermen, and the seafood sold out quickly, but analysts say that sales may continue to lag in larger cities like Tokyo. Concerns about radiation contamination have had a profound impact on seafood prices this year, and fish like flounder and sea bass is still too contaminated to ship to market.
Other Nuclear News
Police in Varberg, Sweden said that they have no suspects in last week’s discovery of explosives at the Ringhals nuclear power plant and are still no closer to solving the case. Security was increased this week at Ringhals and Sweden’s other nuclear plants, Forsmark and Oskarshamn. The incident highlighted the vulnerability of nuclear power plants in Europe and elsewhere to terrorist attacks.