Nuclear Energy Institute Report on Japan’s Nuclear Reactors, May 13, 2011

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–May 13, 2011 – UPDATE AS OF 1:30 P.M. EDT. 
Below is a round-up of noteworthy news that happened this week with regard to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and the U.S. nuclear industry’s response.

Plant Status

  • Japan’s nuclear safety agency has suggested that significant damage to fuel at Fukushima Daiichi 1 means that filling the reactor containment vessel with water may be meaningless. The agency’s Hidehiko Nishiyama said on Friday that melted fuel rods at the bottom of reactor 1 are being cooled by a small amount of water. He said he doubts that it is necessary to flood the containment vessel entirely, as workers have been trying to do. Tokyo Electric Power Co. said on Thursday that most of the fuel rods in the reactor are believed to be damaged and are at the bottom of the reactor’s pressure vessel. Based on the temperature of the reactor vessel surface temperature, the company says the fuel apparently has cooled.
  • TEPCO announced this week delays in its schedule to contain the reactors. The company noted that while its work to restore reactor 1 is in progress, it had not begun these measures at the other reactors at the sites. It said that high levels of radiation in the reactor 1 building could force a change in plans.
  • TEPCO has accepted terms established by the Japanese government for state support to compensate those affected by the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Under the framework, a new state-backed institution will be set up to facilitate quick payments to those affected by the Fukushima events. The body would receive financial contributions from electric power companies that own nuclear power plants in Japan. The government will inject public funds by allocating to the institution special bonds that can be cashed whenever necessary. The institution would strengthen TEPCO’s capital base by making use of these funds to pay compensation claims and make business investments. The institution would annually return a certain amount of money from TEPCO to the treasury to offset the use of the bonds. The government must pass the necessary legislation in the Diet to establish this framework, which is expected to be difficult given that the amount of compensation needed is not yet known.
  • TEPCO released a video this week of the reactor 3 spent fuel pool that shows debris and other material atop fuel racks in the pool. To see the video, click here for TEPCO’s Japanese-language website. A video of the reactor 4 spent fuel pool showed no debris.
  • The Japanese government plans to advise schools near the Fukushima facility that burying soil contaminated by radiation reduces its radiation level. The government said that burying topsoil 20 inches underground reduced its radiation level by 90 percent.
  • Chubu Electric Power Co. has agreed to the Japanese government’s request to shut down reactors at its Hamaoka nuclear power plant, about 200 miles southwest of Tokyo. The government had asked Chubu to implement safeguards against possible earthquakes and tsunamis. The company began shutdown of Hamaoka 4 on Friday.

Industry/Regulatory/Political Issues

  • The nuclear energy industry is “going to be held accountable for learning the lessons from Fukushima and for applying them accordingly. I know that we can meet that standard,” NEI President and CEO Marvin Fertel said at NEI’s annual Nuclear Energy Assembly this week in Washington, D.C. At the same meeting, James Ellis Jr., president and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, called on the industry to seize the opportunity presented by the Fukushima accident and take a leadership position in ensuring safety enhancements are adopted at nuclear energy facilities worldwide.
  • A U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission task force studying lessons learned from Fukushima reported to the commission May 12 that it “has not identified any issues that we think undermine our confidence in the continued safety and emergency planning of U.S. plants.” The three-month review likely will result in recommendations to enhance safety and preparedness at nuclear energy facilities, the task force reported. “That said, we do expect we will have findings and recommendations that will further enhance safety,” said Charles Miller, who leads the post-Fukushima task force. A longer-term review is scheduled to begin by the time the short-term study is complete.
  • The NRC has issued a bulletin to U.S. nuclear energy facility operators requesting information on how the plants are complying with requirements to manage the potential loss of large areas of the plant after extreme events. The agency wants to know how the plants ensure their strategies have remained effective over time. “The NRC continues to conclude these strategies can effectively cool down reactor cores and spent fuel pools even if a plant’s normal safety systems are damaged or unavailable,” the agency said in a press release. “The U.S. nuclear energy industry recognizes that we are accountable to independent oversight authorities and to the American people. We must demonstrate that our facilities are fully prepared to maintain safety, even in cases where we have made protective enhancements that go beyond the NRC’s regulatory requirements,” said Tony Pietrangelo, NEI’s chief nuclear officer and senior vice president. See NEI’s press release.
  • The NRC issued a second temporary instruction (TI 2515/184) requiring the inspection of the availability and readiness of severe accident management guidelines. NRC resident inspectors at each U.S. nuclear energy facility will conduct the inspections over the next three weeks, with support from the agency’s regional offices.
  • Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) yesterday announced the release of a report, “Fukushima Fallout: Regulatory Loopholes at U.S. Nuclear Power Plants.” Markey’s website describes the report as “a summary of Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulatory inadequacies, practices and decisions that impair effective nuclear safety oversight in the United States.”
  • Japan will reconsider its energy policy following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, the prime minister said. Nuclear energy is considered important to Japan’s energy plans, but the government will take new looks at renewable sources and efficiency measures.
  • A forum held by The Women’s Council on Energy and the Environment and Women in Nuclear yesterday in Washington, D.C., addressed the future of nuclear power in the wake of events at Fukushima Daiichi. Panelists included NEI’s Leslie Kass, senior director of business and policy programs; Annie Caputo, professional staff member of the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee; and Ed Lyman, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Media Highlights

  • Events at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan are not expected to “have a major impact on new nuclear plant licensing,” NEI President and CEO, Marvin Fertel said May 10 at the Nuclear Energy Assembly in Washington, D.C. Fertel anticipates that four to eight new reactors will be built in the U.S. by 2020. Bloomberg covered the speech.
  • James Ellis, president and CEO of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, called for the creation of a rapid response team that would be dispatched to major nuclear accidents in the United States and other countries. The creation of such a team is one of the lessons of the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, said Ellis in a Platts report on Wednesday.
  • The Associated Press published a report May 10 on Japan’s long-term energy policy. Naoto Kan, Japan’s prime minister, said the nation will need to “start from scratch,” indicating the country will likely reassess a plan to obtain half the country’s electricity from nuclear power and will instead promote renewable energy and conservation as a result of its ongoing nuclear crisis.
  • Reuters reported May 12 that a leak confirmed at Fukushima Daiichi reactor 1 may be an indicator of failed or melted fuel in the reactor and will likely complicate the cleanup of the facility. The exact location of the leak at reactor 1 remains unclear.

New NEI Products

  • NEI developed several videos this week with industry executives and energy thought leaders on steps that should be taken to enhance nuclear plant safety and finance new nuclear energy projects, as well as the outlook for nuclear energy after Fukushima. To see a list of the video clips, visit NEI’s Web page for Nuclear Energy Assembly news coverage or NEI’s YouTube channel.

The Week Ahead

  • The Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future begins its meeting today with updates on Fukushima from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Energy Department. The co-chairs of the commission’s three subcommittees will present their draft recommendations. View the webcast here.
  • Subcommittees of the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space and Technology are conducting a joint hearing today on nuclear energy risk management in view of events at Fukushima Daiichi. Witnesses include Lake Barrett, principal with L. Barrett Consulting LLC; Brian Sherrod, director of the NRC Office of Regulatory Research; John Boice, scientific director of the International Epidemiology Institute; and David Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project.
  • NEI will conduct a webinar on the aftermath of Fukushima for the National League of Cities on May 17.