Fukushima & Nuclear News Roundup; May 29, 2013

TEPCO’s stock does a dive and Fukushima has far reaching impact on uranium industry worldwide.

TEPCO’s stock shot up last week on word that they would apply to restart their Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant. So far this hasn’t actually happened. Japan’s Diet has passed a new law allowing people to sue TEPCO for compensation after 3 years post disaster. This allows people to sue TEPCO after the 3 year statutory period expires. This new announcement caused TEPCO’s stock to tank. Other Japanese power companies saw their stocks rise after announcements they plan to apply to restart reactors they own. What could play a potential role in these future lawsuits may be the government’s attempts to reclassify more areas of the evacuation zone. These new classifications make more areas partially accessible or able to be returned to by a set time. These reclassifications do not include a solid guarantee that those areas will actually be safety habitable but could be used to legally challenge someone’s right to compensation for the loss of their home and relocation costs.

Japan’s NRA took the new step of actually prohibiting the restart of Monju. This is a different act than the previous refusal to allow them to restart and indicates a new tactics by the regulator to outright forbid a reactor from operating. This will put the reactor out of commission well past March 2014. The NRA will also begin inspecting a fault under Monju in mid June. An active fault 500 meters from the reactor is suspected of having the ability to trigger a fault directly under the reactor. If this is found to be accurate Monju would never be allowed to restart.

The NRA also raised the disturbing possibility that the active fault under the Tsuruga unit 2 reactor could potentially damage and drain the water out of the spent fuel pool. The agency has directed the reactor owner to investigate the issue and come up with a plan to keep water in the pool by various means in case the pool were to fail. Spent fuel pool draining has been cited as a bigger potential risk than even a reactor meltdown in some situations.

Japan’s tourism office has developed an English language website to provide disaster information to tourists in case of an earthquake, tsunami or other disaster. This could be a useful tool for such things as evacuation information and determining open routes or operating trains. During the early days of the 3-11 disaster fukuleaks.org/web fielded many pleas for help from tourists and expats who were struggling to find clear information about areas at risk or open routes to leave the impacted areas. The additional platform to find information will only be as good as the government’s willingness to give people truthful and honest information in a timely manner.

International uranium company Urenco is looking for someone to buy the company. Urenco operates nuclear fuel production facilities in the UK, Netherlands, Germany and the US. The company is under joint ownership of the British and Dutch governments and by two German power companies. What makes this notable is that they cite the lack of reactor operation in Japan as playing a significant role in the downturn of the company and the desire to sell it off. Urenco not only has to find someone willing to buy the company but able to buy it. Only parties already skilled in operating such a set of facilities and able to pass international review of their activities could potentially buy the company. Areva and Toshiba were both cited as candidates able to buy the company. Both have had their own struggles lately and doubts about their future nuclear businesses.

The Paducah gasseous diffusion uranium plant in Kentucky will cease operations this week. USEC, the current “owner” of the plant cites the lack of nuclear power production in Japan as one factor leading to the plant’s demise. USEC cites Japan’s nuclear sector as an “important market” for the uranium produced in the Kentucky plant.

The plant itself is ancient and inefficient. It uses massive amounts of coal power to enrich uranium, so much so that the power bill to keep the plant circulating was so high it was the final burden that caused the plant to shut. Neither USEC nor DOE wanted to keep paying the massive power bill to keep the plant running. The plant needs to constantly circulate the uranium mixture in the pipes to prevent the entire plant from turning to a solid uranium crystallized mass. This “dirty shutdown” will drastically increase the costs and complexity to eventually dismantle the plant. It is also not known what will happen when they do shut down the plant and many worry it could cause a criticality event at the plant. Eco Watch has a detailed write up about the problems, challenges and lack of a decommissioning plan for the plant. A new plant in Ohio hoped to take up the Paducah plant’s work is plagued with problems and an uncertain future.

Find out more about former Dept. of Energy facilities here http://www.lm.doe.gov/default.aspx?id=866

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