Japan’s Energy Goals Set Nuclear at 20%

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(Japan English language wire services / NucNet) Japan is calling for further efforts to cut its carbon emissions by promoting renewable energy. Signifiantly, it is also pushing nuclear power despite its experience with the 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

To reach its expected goals related to climate change it will have to restart reactors not slated to be decommisioned, complete units that were under construction in 2011, and complete plans for new units to replace current plants.

Chief among the restarts which need to take place are the seven reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant. Five of the units are rated at 1100 MW and two at just under 1400 MW. All of the reactors are BWRs.

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The nuclear reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant

The new policy of boosting reliance on nuclear power to 20% or more faces continued anti-nuclear sentiment which has been used successfully as a wedge issue by some political candidates seeking to unseat incumbents.

This practice has been particularly visible in Niigata Prefecture which is home to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors. In fairness, some of the home grown angst has been earned by TEPCO which owns and operates the seven reactors due to a series of fires and also problems with handling low level radioactive waste and disputes about leaks of radioactive water into the nearby ocean.

Separately, the Nuclear Regulation Authority has been imposing new safety requirements across the board for all plants. It recently mandated design upgrades for protective measures against terrorist attacks and preparations for dealing with the effects of volcanic eruptions. Both measures have been criticized as “excessive” in that the costs are seen by Japanese utilities as over reach relative to the potential for terrorism and unrealistic as the potentially impacted reactors are 200 miles from the nearest volcano.

Nuclear reactor restarts in Japan overall are proceeding slowly and utility companies have opted to scrap older and smaller reactors instead of spending capital on additional safety measures required by the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

Nearly half of the reactors in Japan are now slated for decommissioning. Only nine units have resumed operation since the 2011 accident. The operating units are Ohi-3 and -4, Genkai-3 and -4, Sendai-1 and -2, Takahama-3 and -4, and Ikata-3. (map)

Policy Paper Sets 20% Goal for Nuclear Energy

An energy policy paper, adopted by the Japanese government cabinet last week said the nation faces the urgent task of reducing carbon emissions by utilities that rely heavily on fossil fuel plants. Japan shut down all of its nuclear power plants after the Fukushima disaster in 2011, and has slowly restarted a handful of them.

The paper addresses major issues including global warming countermeasures and energy problems in line with the Paris Agreement.

Concerning Japan’s long-term target of an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050, as directed by the Paris Agreement, the White Paper states that “it would be difficult to meet the target by merely extending conventional efforts.”

The White Paper also compares the CO2 emission targets, efforts and progress being made in several major countries. It analyzes the various factors underlying them. Continued use of fossil fuels is one of the major impediments to meeting climate goals. Currently, Japan ranks 27th among the 35 OECD nations in per-capita CO2 emissions.

Japanese utilities rely heavily on fossil fuel plants. Coal and natural gas now account for 74% of Japan’s energy supply. Nuclear energy made up about one-third of Japan’s energy supply before 2011.

Given that Japan is highly efficient in terms of energy consumption, but weak in terms of energy supply — eighty percent of its of electricity generation depends on fossil fueled thermal power — the White Paper stressed the importance of accelerating the reduction of CO2 emissions. Toward the realization of non-fossil power sources, it said that Japan would “continue promoting the restart of nuclear reactors, putting priority on safety.”

According to the white paper, Japan wants renewable energy’s share in 2030 to grow to 22-24% of the country’s power supply from 16%, while pushing nuclear energy to 20-22% from just 3% in 2017. The report said the cost of renewables also needs to be reduced but didn’t specify how that goal would be met.

Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel in Japan

Due to plans to shut down a number of reactors, Japan’s stockpile of spent nuclear fuel, which contains plutonium, is growing. This has worried nonproliferation experts who question Japan’s transparency about how it plans to handle the material.

About 37 tonnes of spent Japanese fuel is being stored in France and Britain where it has been slated for reprocessing since Japan lacks the capability to do it at home.

Japan’s main reprocessing plant at Rokkasho, where plutonium and spent fuel are stored but reprocessing has not started, says the 10 tonnes stored in Japan is under close monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency and there is no risk of proliferation.

Prior coverage on this blog: New York Times Gets Half the Story on Japan’s MOX fuel Plan

Shellenberger in Japan Talks About Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel

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Michael Shellenberger speaks to JAIF about Managing Spent Nuclear Fuel

Environmental Activist Michael Shellenberger of Environmental Progress, famous as an environmental activist who supports nuclear power, visited Japan to make a special presentation at the 52nd Japan Industrial Forum (JAIF) Annual Conference.

At a press conference after the presentation, he explained why he changed his view of nuclear power, something he once opposed.

He emphasized his views on disposal of radioactive waste and the nuclear industry’s adherence to underground burial of it. Here are some highlights.
“The extent of people’s fears of radioactive waste and nuclear power can be attributed to traumatic feelings about the power of the then-innovative technology seen in the atomic bombings nearly seventy-five years ago.”
“Those experiences reverberate today. Since then, no one has been harmed by radioactive waste, and the volumes of it are relatively small. In contrast, according to WHO, air pollution as a result of burning fossil fuels or biofuels kills seven million people annually. When today’s solar panels reach the ends of their lives twenty or twenty-five years from now, the volume of that waste will be 200 to 300 times the volume of nuclear waste.”

Shellenberger offered some psychological insights as to why people react so strongly to the issue of where to store and dispose of spent nucleaar fuel. He said the public’s thinking “has been formed in the anthropological and psychological sphere” and does not have a technical understanding of the risk issues.

He explained that above ground interim storage of spent fuel is safe, but the public has other ideas. It’s almost a case of superstition and an escape from reality he said.
“Above ground, it would be possible to monitor the waste continually and confirm that it remains stable. Anthropologically, however, burying it is a ceremony, interring something no longer needed, beneath the ground.”

According to Shellenberger there are deeply rooted reasons why people become so emotional over the issue.
“When I listen to people talk about radiation, it sounds like they are talking about an evil spirit rather than a physical phenomenon. There is an impulse common to every culture to rid ourselves of the unwanted and to bury it forever.”
“I want people to realize why they think like that. I want them to see that they are unconsciously seeking to eradicate a powerful technology.”

Shellenberger’s remarks were reported by the JAIF.

Finland Details Roadmap to Carbon Neutrality

(S&P Global Platts) Finland’s new center-left coalition government plans to “move towards carbon neutrality by 2035,” it said in a detailed policy document.

Production of electricity and heat must be “almost emission-free” by the end of the 2030s, driven by the removal of energy tax relief for heavy industry and introduction of tax benefits on heat pumps, offshore wind turbines and electricity storage.

Highights of the plan according to Platts include;

  • Use of coal in generation is supposed to be phased out by 2029.
  • The use of peat in generation is forecast to end in the 2030s.
  • The use of heating oil is to be phased out entirely in the early 2030s, with use in state and municipal buildings abandoned by 2024.

To achieve these ends the Finnish government said the electrification and the connection of energy systems (electricity, heat and transport) will require a significant increase in renewable electricity production.

In terms of nuclear energy, the extension of existing nuclear power plant licenses would be accepted on condition the country’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority supported these applications.

Finland’s Nuclear Energy Profile

Finland has four nuclear reactors providing about 30% of its electricity. A fifth reactor is under construction and another is planned, to take the nuclear energy to about 60% and replace coal. Provisions for radioactive waste disposal are well underway.

Olikiluoto 3, a 1600 MW EPR, is now slated to enter revenue service in January 2020. The plant has experienced numerous and costly delays during construction. Startup woes with the steam system have also set back a commissioning date.

The new Fennovoima Hanhikivi 1 has seen delays due to safety assessments of plans for the unit which is a 1200 MW VVER to be built by Rosatom with a consortium of Finnish firms. The utility Fennovoima has said its goal is to get the construction licence by the end of 2019. In December 2018 Rosatom told the company that first power would be in 2028 due to delays in documentation with STUK, and construction start was likely in 2021.

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