Aging nuclear power plants

The government is weighing measures to aid power companies that decommission aging nuclear power plants and host municipalities that will lose nuclear power-related revenue. To facilitate the moves to scrap aging plants, some steps may be necessary to ease the process. But support should not be extended in ways that perpetuate the reliance of the power firms and the host municipalities on nuclear power.

Under safety regulations tightened after the March 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, utilities are not allowed in principle to run nuclear power reactors for longer than 40 years. The operators can seek to extend reactor operations for up to 20 years, but they need to undergo special inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which would require huge investments to upgrade aging equipment to beef up their safety.

Of the 48 nuclear power reactors in Japan, four — the No. 1 reactor at Japan Atomic Power Co.’s Tsuruga plant, the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama plant and the No. 1 reactor at Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane plant — have already been in operation for more than 40 years, while three others — Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at Kansai Electric’s Takahama plant and the No. 1 reactor at the Genkai plant of Kyushu Electric Power — will reach the 40-year mark in July 2016.

The power firms need to apply to the NRA by next summer if they want to extend the reactors’ operation. The utilities are said to be considering the choice of decommissioning the aging reactors, which typically have small output capacity and are unlikely to churn out profits that match the massive cost of renovation.

The government is ready to facilitate the move, apparently on the belief that scrapping aging reactors will help win public support for reactivating other reactors that were put offline after the Fukushima disaster. While urging the power companies to make swift decisions, the government has kicked off discussions on measures to support the moves by the utilities.

Decommissioning a nuclear power reactor takes 20 to 30 years. In addition to the direct cost of scrapping the reactor, there will be other expenses such as those for disposing of the large amount of radioactive waste.

While the utilities have set aside reserves to pay for future decommissioning by adding the cost on to electricity bills, moving forward schedules for scrapping reactors due to new safety regulations will require additional expenses. The power companies also need to devalue the reactors once they are decommissioned and report the losses.

Local governments hosting the nuclear power plants stand to lose national government grants to such municipalities as well as revenue from fixed asset taxes on the reactors to be decommissioned. There are concerns about severe damage to local economies from the cuts of such revenue, along with losses to related businesses.

Under discussion at a panel of the trade and industry ministry are measures such as changing accounting rules that currently require the power companies to report losses on the reactors immediately after decommissioning them, as well as maintaining government financial support for the host municipalities even after the reactors have been scrapped.

Also reportedly under consideration is a system that will include in the price of electricity generated by nuclear power the total power generation costs — including the expenses of future decommissioning of reactors and disposal of spent fuel — even after the retail sale of power is fully deregulated.

The decommissioning of reactors that are aging and more vulnerable to severe accidents or natural disasters should be promoted, and steps will need to be taken to eliminate hurdles, including financial concerns, that deter such moves. But the steps need to be limited to temporary measures that ease the financial burden on the power firms and host municipalities.

Preferential treatment toward nuclear power that could encourage the utilities to keep relying on it as a source of commercial electricity, as well as policies that keep the local economies depending on the nuclear power industry, will run counter to the government’s pledge in its latest basic energy plan to reduce “as much as possible” the nation’s reliance on nuclear power, and therefore must be avoided.

  • prothopectore

    every nuclear power plant site will wind up a tax payer subsidized superfund site. and the share holders of nuke plants will walk away from any responsibility because the tax payer middle class will be happy to pick up and cover any decommissioning costs and the long term costs associated with radioactive wastes storage.

  • prothopectore

    Nuclear has been dead since the 80’s because of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. And now Fukushima cements nuclear as being a 20th century technology.

    1. It’s not a viable business. Nuclear Power makes 6% of the electrical energy of the world. That’s with about 400 nuclear power plants worldwide. These are old nuclear power plants. Our scientists tell us that to have any kind of impact on the so called “climate change”, we would need nuclear to make 20% of the electrical energy via nuclear to have the minimum impact. We would have to replace the out dated 400 reactors and build 1600 additional plants, 3 new nuclear plants would have to be built every 30 days for 40 years to get up to the 20%. And by then “climate change” will have run it’s course.

    2. We have no means or methods to dispose of or recycle the nuclear wastes. We’ve been creating nuclear wastes for 70 years now. 18 years and 8 billion dollars later Yucca mountain was a failure because of the fractures in the geologic formation, there are cracks in the mountain. WIPP (Waste Isolation Pilot Plant) was designed as a secure containment for at least 10,000 years and it didn’t even last for 15 years without having a catastrophic release of radiation. Underground vaults are not secure.

    3. Uranium deficits. According to the International Atomic Energy Commission between 2025 and 2035 we start running out of Uranium with just the 400 operating plants we now have.

    4. Recycling used spent fuel into MOX fuel means we have Plutonium fuel, and plutonium is a really bad idea because of how lethal it is. With the uncertainty and instability around the world having Plutonium everywhere is a really bad idea.

    5. Water. Earth doesn’t have the water available to cool reactors. We can either use the water for agriculture and our ecosystems, or to cool nuclear power plants. France uses about 50% of its fresh water available to cool it’s nuclear plants. This is unsustainable. Water is one of the most inelastic of demands for life.

    6. Nuclear power is a form of centralized energy generation. The old fashioned electrical grid system is 20th century technology. The 21st century will utilize a decentralized electrical energy generation and distribution system. Solar, Wind, Wave, Geothermal….these are 21st century technologies that are collaborative and laterally scaled.

    All in all Nuclear is a bad business deal.

    • Starviking

      Point 1. France went from near-zero to having a large nuclear power sector on the order of 10 years.

      Point 2. Yucca, it has recently been revealed, is eminently suitable. Notwithstanding that, new reactor designs can ‘burn’ long-lived waste. WIPP is a nuclear weapons waste facility – with different issues. Even then, the incident this year has a near zero effect on the environment.

      Point 3. Seawater, MOX, Breeder Reactors, Thorium. The estimate for remaining Uranium, absent any new geologic discoveries, is around 90 years.

      Point 4. Plutonium’s lethality is much exaggerated.

      Point 5. Your figure for freshwater use seems fantastical, but even if it were true, the water doesn’t dissapear. Anyway, a report on water cooling needs put nuclear at the same level of liters needed per kWh as coal: 0.52 litres per kWh. France’s nuclear produced 405.9 TWh in 2013. That gives about 211 billion litres per year.That’s 0.211 Km3. France had 186.3 km3 renewable freshwater in 2013. So your source is way out!

      Point 6. Electrical grid is old-fashioned? Look at the problems coming up in trying to move away from the grid. This point is magical thinking.

      By the way, I hope this encourages you to question your belief in the source of most of this information, the often-wrong economist Jeffery Rifkin.

      • prothopectore

        as soon as you say “plutoniums lethality is much exaggerated” you prove that you are a pro nuke industry shill.
        second I don’t have any clue who Rifkin is.
        you’re a pro nuke troll is all and your made up list is laughable.
        but thankyou for playing ;)

      • Starviking

        Prothopectore, I have to say, there are no convincing points in your reply.

        Why don’t you provide your calculations for your Point 5? I would love to know how France uses 50% of its freshwater on NPPs.

        As for Rifkin, here’s some snippets of an article from Helen Caldicott’s website on a talk from him. His points should be familiar, as they are your points, and you use them almost word-for-word in places:

        [Reason 1] Nuclear would have to be 20% to have the minimum minimum
        impact on climate change. That means we’d have to replace the existing
        400 nuclear plants and build 1600 additional plants. Three nuclear
        plants would have to be built every 30 days for 40 years to get to 20%
        and by that time climate change would have pretty much run its course
        with us. I think from a business point of view it doesn’t make any
        sense. I’d be surprised if we replace 100 of the existing plants, which
        would take us down to 1 or 2% of the energy mix.

        [Reason 2] We still don’t know how to recycle the nuclear waste and
        we’re seventy years in. Now, we have good engineers in the US. We spent
        18 years & $8 billion building an underground vault in Yucca
        Mountain to store the wastes for 10,000 years. We can’t use it. We can’t
        even store them, because there are cracks in the mountain. But any
        geologist could have told them that we live on tectonic plates. You
        can’t keep underground vaults secure.

        [Reason 3] We run into uranium deficits, according to the Department
        of Atomic Energy Commission, you may know this, between 2025 and 2035
        for just the existing 400 plants. So, that means the price goes up.

        [Reason 4] We could do what the French generation of new plants are
        doing and recycle the uranium to plutonium. But then we have plutonium
        all over the world in an age of uncertainty and terrorism.

        [Reason 5] And then, finally, and this is the big one that people
        don’t realize- we don’t have the water. Over 40% of all the fresh water
        consumed in France each year goes to cooling the nuclear reactors. It’s
        almost 50% now. When it comes back it’s heated and it’s dehydrating our
        agricultural and ecosystems, and it’s threatening our agriculture. So,
        we don’t have the water. This is true all over the world. We have
        saltwater nuclear plants. But then you have to put them in coastal
        regions, and then you risk a Fukushima because of tsunamis and ocean
        currents.

        [Reason 6] And I would say the last thing about this is that nuclear
        power is centralized power, we’ll talk about this tonight, like fossil
        fuels. It doesn’t fit a new generation that’s moving with the kind of
        technologies that are distributed, collaborative, and laterally scaled.
        It’s an old technology.

        So, it’s strange that you don’t know Jeremy Rifkin – you use his words liberally.

      • prothopectore

        oh yeah, I guess that’s the guy I got that from. thanks for providing his name and dr. caldicott…..both really in touch with the reality of the situation people. I’d just did my best unverbatim transcription of a lecture he was giving on youtube….never did catch his name.
        its good to see you’re on the same page as us anti nuke humans ;)
        I knew you’d come around…

      • Starviking

        Well, a good calculation backing up your statement on freshwater use in your Point 5 might move me a little closer to your position.

  • Richard Solomon

    Nowhere in this discussion is the fact that the taxpayers and/or the customers of the utilities have not yet really paid for ALL the costs associated with nuclear power.

    These plants were built and have been running for up to 40 years, or even more in a few instances, without the expenses of decommissioning them calculated into the rates people have been paying?!?

    Then there are other costs. Eg, how much will it cost to store the spent fuel safely? There are still no facilities built for that. Is there a budget for that? Are there communities which will accept this spent fuel, knowing that it will have to be stored and monitored for thousands of years? I don’t think so.

    Or how much will it ‘cost’ the local communities who have depended on these jobs to re-orient themselves economically and socially? Has anyone calculate that?!?

    You see, nuclear power being safe and clean is, and has been right from the start, a boondoggle. Assuming there is no ‘accident’ like happened at Fukushima, utilities and related corporations building the plants make tons of money during the ‘good years.’ Then they leave the taxpayer/rate paying customer to clean up after them!!

    WHEN will the voters in Japan, as well as other countries like the USA or France, wake up and realize they’ve been hoodwinked for the last 50+ years when it comes to nuclear power?!?

  • Starviking

    “Preferential treatment toward nuclear power that could encourage the utilities to keep relying on it as a source of commercial electricity”

    And we certainly wouldn’t want a low-CO2 technology providing power in this age of global warming…