Japan: NRA Suspends JAPC's Tsuruga-2 Review

Copyright © 2023 Energy Intelligence Group All rights reserved. Unauthorized access or electronic forwarding, even for internal use, is prohibited.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) on Aug. 18 formally suspended its safety review of Japan Atomic Power Co.'s (JAPC) Tsuruga-2 in Fukui prefecture, potentially pulling the plug on JAPC's hopes to restart the unit. Beyond that, the move casts another cloud over the company -- once an emblem of Japan's nuclear future but now on life support due to a continuous bailout from its member utilities (NIW Nov.1'19). The unprecedented and indefinite suspension of the safety conformity review was blamed on unauthorized "rewriting" of seismic data which the regulators described as both "inappropriate" and unscientific. This puts JAPC's reputation on the line, and with it, at least symbolically, the country's entire nuclear industry. JAPC was founded in 1957 and began operating the country's first commercial nuclear plant, Tokai-1, in 1966. Besides the still idled 1,110 MW Tokai-2, the only remaining unit capable of keeping JAPC in the nuclear generation game is the 1,160 MW Tsuruga-2. Also at risk are JAPC's long-cherished plans to build two 1,538 megawatt advanced pressurized water reactors (APWRs), west of the existing facility, which is just north of Tsuruga City. The loss of Tsuruga-2, as well as the possible exclusion of the chances for two new APWRs, would also be a setback to the nuclear power revival policy promoted by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (Meti). The unanimous decision by the NRA's five commissioners was based on a Jul. 28 report by NRA staff of an investigation into the unauthorized “rewriting” of boring core geological data by JAPC meant to determine whether the Urasoko fault system that runs underneath Tsuruga-2 is active, which would block restart and require the reactor's decommissioning. The interim report described the JAPC management system as “inappropriate” for the preparation of reliable review data and materials. The Cabinet-level Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion maintains that the Yanagase-Urasoko fault system is capable of triggering a 7.2-magnitude earthquake and the adjacent Yanagase-Sekigahara fault system could generate 7.6-magnitude temblors. An NRA expert committee determined in May 2015 that activity under the reactor building after the Late Pleistocene era (or roughly within the last 400,000 years) "cannot be denied" and concluded that the fault "may become active in the future." Since submitting its restart application in 2015, JAPC has contested the NRA findings with its own geological research. However, the NRA discovered that boring data submitted by the Tokyo-based firm in February 2020 contained 80 modifications with unacknowledged changes, including overwriting data from a previous study submitted in 2018. Although the safety review was suspended in June, the NRA resumed its examinations in October after JAPC submitted raw data from the subcontractor who carried out the geological survey on JAPC's behalf (NIW Jun.19'20). In its Aug. 18 decision, the NRA said the safety review could be resumed under two conditions, namely concrete assurance of the traceability of survey data and clarification of data from multiple investigation or survey methods. In addition, the finding stated that the NRA will prioritize confirmation that JAPC has established a quality assurance process that can guarantee these two points and stated that “no review meetings will be held until the establishment of such a management process is verified.” During the discussion, NRA Chairman Toyoshi Fuketa criticized JAPC's actions, stating that, “if you don't follow fundamental scientific methods, there's nothing to talk about.” NRA Commissioner Akira Ishiwatari, who is in charge of the examination of earthquake and tsunami countermeasures, stated that “it is better not to hold the examination meeting until the situation is improved" and all five members agreed to suspend the review process, the Mainichi Shimbun reported Aug. 18. In a statement the same day, JAPC acknowledged that further NRA review was contingent on confirmation that acceptable quality assurance management systems were operative, with data and quality assurance confirmed separately by NRA review. “Based on the decision made today by the NRA, we will make every effort to promptly prepare for confirmation of the establishment of such operational processes so that review meetings can be resumed as soon as possible,” the statement promised. A JAPC spokesman told Energy Intelligence that the “we will not appeal this decision.” Time Running Out Reaction to the NRA's decision was mixed, with one senior industry professional commenting that it “makes it clear that it [the NRA] has no intention to license Tsuruga-2, not so much because of mistakes made by JAPC but in consideration of political issues.” A nuclear industry analyst accused the regulator of delaying tactics (“moving forward at the pace of an ox” -- or gyuho senjitsu) and observed that the time used in the safety review is included in the reactor's 40-year license period, of which 34 years have been expended. If JAPC wants to operate Tsuruga-2 beyond May 2026, it will need to apply for a 20-year extension by May 2025. Youichi Nishiyama, an analyst with Kyoto-based "Green Action" told Energy Intelligence that "it's not yet 'game over' for Tsuruga-2, especially since the NRA has not stated that JAPC's data are incorrect, but it's likely that the review will be significantly delayed and there's not much time left." However, other analysts observed that JAPC had actually “escaped by the skin of its teeth” despite recurrent errors and shortcomings in the review process. "As soon as JAPC accepts the reality [of an active fault], it will have no choice but to decommission Tsuruga-2 and its plans for Tsuruga-3,4 will also be affected and the company could face bankruptcy,” Citizen's Nuclear Information Center Secretary-General Hajime Matsukubo told Energy Intelligence in an email. "Hence, JAPC may try to maintain the current situation until the NRA issues a final decision," he added. For his part, Fuketa told reporters after the meeting that the commissioners had made "a weighty decision" and that he didn't want a drawn-out delay to the review. "I want to settle scientifically" whether there is an active fault or not, he said, and would “really like to have scientific and technical data in place before making a firm decision.” This "could not be achieved" in the last review. Dennis Engbarth, Taipei City

Security Risk , Nuclear, Security Risk , Nuclear
Wanda Ad #2 (article footer)
Zaporizhzhia plant reverts to backup power amid renewed attempt to secure plant; the European Commission approves amended contracts for the Russian Paks II project in Hungary; Japan maritime firms commit to UK-led floating reactor development.
Fri, May 26, 2023
Exxon will capture, transport and store CO2 emissions in Louisiana in what appears to be one of the first large offtake agreements for CO2 in the hard-to-abate steel sector.
Thu, Jun 1, 2023
Warming ties between Iran and its Gulf neighbors are helping de-escalate regional tensions. But US sanctions and nuclear jitters risk spoiling the party.
Thu, Jun 1, 2023