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16 April, 2021

Nuclear Energy Subcommittee Hears Opinions on Technological Infrastructure from Representatives of Industry

On April 14, the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee under the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy met and organized the results of its recent deliberations. In February, the subcommittee had resumed its activities after about two years, having revised the Strategic Energy Plan under consideration since the previous fall (2020). It is headed by Itaru Yasui, executive fellow of Backcasting Technology.

Toward the establishment of a system for sustainable use of nuclear energy, related in part to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, the subcommittee divided its activities roughly into six areas:

  •  Sustained efforts to improve safety
  •  Co-prosperity with siting areas
  •  Establishment of sustainable backend systems
  •  The maximum manifestation of nuclear energy’s potential and pursuit of safety
  •  Maintaining and strengthening infrastructure for industry, human resources and technology
  •  Active promotion of international cooperation

Regarding the maximum manifestation of nuclear energy’s potential, representatives of the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy (ANRE) noted the need to carry out activities for improving capacity factors and increasing long-term operation beyond forty years, while endeavoring continually to improve safety. Regarding the latter, trends in other countries were presented, such as the approval by the United States of reactor operation for eighty years.

At the meeting, Takao Matsumura, chair of the nuclear development committee of the Federation of Electric Power Companies (FEPC), referred to the importance of the maximum utilization of existing nuclear power plants (NPPs). He talked about activities to improve capacity factors, including the efficient implementation of periodic inspections, long-cycle operations, and expanding the store of technological information and knowledge in cooperation with the Atomic Energy Association (ATENA). He also asked that the topic of revising the current lifetime operation system be addressed.

The Mihama-3 Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) and Takahama-1 and -2, all owned and operated by the Kansai Electric Power Co. (Kansai EP), have been approved to operate for up to sixty years. On April 9, Fukui Prefecture’s special committee formulated a draft report on its deliberations on safety improvements, stating that “measures necessary for ensuring the engineering safety of reactors have been implemented.”

At the meeting of the Nuclear Energy Subcommittee on April 14, Fukui Governor Tatsuji Sugimoto said, “More careful periodic inspections may be required for long-period operations. The priority must be safety before efficiency. I want the power utility to attempt to obtain the broad understanding of the public.”

As for the maximum manifestation of nuclear energy’s potential and the pursuit of safety, five men spoke on behalf of industry: Shiro Arai, president of JAIF, Hidenao Kudo, president of Japan Steel Works, M&E, Inc., Akihiko Kato, executive vice president of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. (MHI), Tadashi Kume, executive officer of Hitachi, Ltd., and Shoji Yamada, president of JGC Corporation.

JAIF President Arai started by talking about the current situation—the effects of long-term suspension of NPP operations, and the aging of experienced people in NPP construction projects—based on a fact-finding survey of the Japanese nuclear industry that is conducted annually by his organization. He then asked the government to clearly state, in its energy policies, a commitment to maintaining nuclear power at a certain scale, and to consider the construction of new NPPs and replacements for older ones.

President Kudo of Japan Steel Works talked about the manufacturing process for nuclear components, as well as his company’s record of performance. Emphasizing the responsibility of his company as a manufacturer of materials, he explained that the numbers of units of reactor pressure vessels and steam generators delivered in FY20 were only half of what they were in FY11.

He also stressed issues affecting the continuation of manufacturing technology and skills, saying, “High quality is essential, and achieving it cannot be learned from a manual.” He thus emphasized that the continuation of technology and skills would be difficult without actual manufacturing and the accumulation of experience.

Next, MHI’s Kato, Hitachi’s Kume, and JGC’s Yamada explained their respective company’s efforts for nuclear innovation. Yamada cited recent investment in the development of small modular reactors (SMRs) by NuScale Power, LLC, a developer of SMRs in the United States.

Subcommittee members also shared their opinions. Concerning the development of SMRs, some said that the Japanese government should support investment in their R&D, as does the U.S. Department of Energy.

Others spoke of fostering a sense of security in siting areas. Nuclear power’s role in adjusting for irregularities with renewable energies was also mentioned.

Another person referred to a recent incident involving the physical protection of nuclear materials at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPS, saying that the power utility should “reflect” on that situation, while also arguing for keeping the case separate from questions of nuclear R&D.

Meanwhile, concerning the government’s decision to release the ALPS-treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi NPS into the sea, someone commented that a more sufficient explanation should have been given by the government in advance.

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