nuclear waste

Japan warns nuclear plants to prepare well in advance for reactor decommissioning

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Japan is ramping up its nuclear decommissioning programme, with the Government calling on plants to plan ahead in order to lower costs and reduce safety risks.

Following the Fukushima disaster in 2011, which saw severe damage to a nuclear plant after being hit earthquakes and a tidal wave, Japan's power plant operators have been accelerating their decommissioning due to the expense burden of improved safety standards.

Twenty-four commercial reactors - roughly 40 per cent of Japan’s total - are designated for or are currently being decommissioned including four reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

The decommissioning of a typical reactor costs nearly 60 billion yen (£460m) and takes several decades, according to the Press Association.

The Japan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) has urged utilities to learn from US and European examples, especially those of Germany, France and the UK.

The Fukushima disaster is considered the most severe nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the only other disaster since to be given the Level 7 event classification of the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Japan has not yet completed the decommissioning of any reactors and does not have concrete plans for the final disposal of radioactive waste.

An annual white paper adopted by the JAEC said: “Taking into consideration further increase of nuclear facilities that will be decommissioned, new technology and systems need to be developed in order to carry out the tasks efficiently and smoothly. It’s a whole new stage that we have to proceed to and tackle.”

Before the Fukushima disaster, Japan had 60 commercial reactors that provided about 25 per cent of the country’s energy needs.

Despite the government’s renewed ambitions for nuclear power, reactor restarts are proceeding slowly as nuclear regulators spend more time on inspections.

Meanwhile, anti-nuclear sentiment persists among the public and makes it more difficult for plant operators to obtain local consent in making revisions to their facilities. Any plan related to nuclear waste storage tends to meet strong resistance.

Since the Fukushima accident, only nine reactors in Japan have restarted, accounting for about 3 per cent of the country’s energy supply, compared to the government’s ambitious 20-22 per cent target.

Tokyo Electric Power Holdings, which owns the plant, said its decommissioning alone would cost 410 billion yen (£3.2bn) and would take four decades, but experts have raised concerns about whether those estimates are realistic for a company already struggling with the ongoing clean-up of the wrecked Fukushima plant, estimated to cost about eight trillion yen (£61bn).

In 2018, it was revealed that a giant ice wall constructed underneath Fukushima was failing to prevent groundwater from seeping into it.

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