NRC briefed NISA on contingencies; Tepco in dark


Staff Writer

The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency in 2006 and 2008 received briefings from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on its contingency guideline for handling nuclear plants in case of a terrorist attack, which may have included detailed procedures to lower reactor pressure to avoid explosions, an agency official said Friday.

Agency officials visited the NRC for the briefings, but the U.S. side barred them from taking notes or speaking of the content with outsiders — even the utilities running nuclear power plants — and did not give them any written material, said Tatsuya Taguchi of NISA’s safety technology department.

The Asahi Shimbun first reported Friday that the NRC provided the contingency briefings. If NISA had passed the information on to Tokyo Electric Power Co. and other utilities, Tepco may have been better prepared for the power loss at Fukushima No. 1, the Asahi said.

NISA, however, followed orders and didn’t share any of the information with other organizations, including Tepco, Taguchi said.

“The nature of the briefings made it difficult to pass along information,” Taguchi said, as they were not even allowed to read the guideline itself.

Critics say it took too long for Tepco to open the venting valves of the containment vessel of reactor 1 at the crippled facility and suspect that the lack of a contingency plan like the NRC’s exacerbated the meltdown crisis.

The NRC guideline recommended that training and equipment necessary for manual venting, such as a DC power supply, should always be on hand in case of a total power blackout.

The power loss paralyzed the cooling functions of reactors 1, 2 and 3, leading to the meltdowns and hydrogen explosions.

Part of the written guideline, which had been classified out of fear that it would benefit terrorists, has become publicly available. Taguchi said the NRC took this action in August after the Fukushima disaster showed it was necessary to share this kind of information.

“The main focus of the guideline is to counter terrorism under the assumption that an airplane has been crashed into a nuclear plant,” said Taguchi, who added that he believes such a terrorist attack would be highly unlikely in Japan.

Masao Yoshida, director of Fukushima No. 1, ordered his staff to prepare to lower the pressure in reactor 1 by venting steam from its containment vessel at 12:06 a.m. March 12. Tepco finally opened the valves at 2:30 p.m., just an hour before a hydrogen explosion ripped through the reactor 1 building.

¥1 trillion just for starters


Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to spend about ¥1 trillion in the first 10 years of the decades-long process toward scrapping the crippled reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, according to an estimate drawn up by the utility and the government-backed nuclear bailout fund.

The estimate covering the period through fiscal 2021 suggests the beleaguered utility will need a lot more money to complete the decommission process, which is expected to take up to 40 years and will involve the highly difficult task of removing the melted nuclear fuel from reactors 1, 2 and 3.

According to the estimate, Tepco has set aside ¥427.5 billion for fiscal 2011 to cool the reactors and deal with the tons of radioactive water accumulating at the plant, while projecting expenditures of ¥325.3 billion by fiscal 2013.

Tepco is expected to earmark ¥47.3 billion for 2014 and ¥55.5 billion for 2015, with the amount dropping to ¥25 billion a year thereafter in preparation for removing the melted fuel rods.

Based on a work schedule announced in December for scrapping the reactors, Tepco will start removing the fuel stored in the spent fuel pools of reactors 1 through 4 by fiscal 2013 and the melted fuel from reactors 1 through 3 by fiscal 2021.

Tepco didn’t make clear how much money would be needed for the decommissioning when it and the government unveiled the work schedule.

The total to be spent by fiscal 2021 will reach ¥1.006 trillion, according to the estimate. Tepco and the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund are currently striving to craft a special business plan covering the period through fiscal 2021.