December 2000

Japan: new fuel transport cask contamination problem revealed

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Green Action, Press release, 1 December 2000

[Posted 06/12/ 2000]

For immediate release

Contact: Aileen Mioko Smith mobile 81-90-3620-9251

Internal Documents of Japanese Nuclear Industry and Regulators Reveal:
  • BNFL Negligence in Meeting Deadline for Cask Inspections
  • Japanese Electric Utility and Regulatory Agency Collusion
  • Major Withdrawal of Licenses for Japanese Nuclear Transport Casks

Japanese Ministry of Transport Neither Confirms nor Denies if Casks for Imminent MOX Fuel Shipment from Europe to Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata, Japan are Affected

Kyoto, Japan —On 7 June, the Osaka citizens organization Mihama-no-Kai received an anonymous email stating that inspection requirements for internal radiation measurements of spent nuclear fuel and MOX fuel casks by the Japanese Ministry of Transport and Science and Technology Agency were not carried out. These inspections were to be licensee (electric utility) initiated, with the inspections themselves carried out by BNFL at Sellafield, Britain and COGEMA at La Hague, France. The majority of casks involved BNFL inspections. The violation occurred because BNFL and COGEMA were negligent in meeting the deadline for inspections.

Subsequently, on 12 June, 30 pages of internal documents were faxed to Mihama-no-Kai by the sender of the e-mail. The documents revealed the anger of the ORC (the Overseas Reprocessing Committee, the Japanese electric utility committee for conducting business with BNFL and COGEMA) toward BNFL’s negligence to meet the deadline and the subsequent problems this caused the Japanese utilities.

The documents also reveal collusion between the Ministry of Transport and the Science and Technology Agency on the one hand and the Japanese electric utilities and PNTL as well on the other: Memos from the Ministry of Transport include a draft reprimand asking the utilities and PNTL (Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited) if the text of the reprimand is agreeable to the companies. The memos also discuss measures to be taken to get the regulators and utilities through the problem. Several options are given by the Ministry of Transport. The final decision is to not make the issue public, to de-license the casks, and proceed from there.

Summary of issues:

According to an official notice from the Ministry of Transport and the Science and Technology Agency dated December 1990, spent nuclear fuel transport casks in storage at BNFL and COGEMA must undergo licensee-initiated regular inspections at least once a year.

However, it was determined that as of 21 December 1999, there were at least 26 transport casks for which more than one year had passed without inspections taking place. The majority of these casks (20) are owned by Kansai Electric. As a result there are no casks that can be used for transport (June 2000) for PWR and BWR apart from the six HZ75T casks under the regulatory authority of the Science and Technology Agency (STA). The total number of casks for which licenses were withdrawn are 55 transport casks under the regulatory authority of the Ministry of Transport and 14 casks under the regulatory authority of STA. The casks were de-licensed on 23 March 2000.

The only casks still under use (end of June 2000) are 35 JAPCO casks for Mutsu, 12 JNFL gas cooled reactor casks, 6 STA HZ-75T casks, 8 casks for MOX fuel transport (July 2000) and 10 casks (September 2000). It is unclear if the 8 casks are included in the 10-cask number.

The Ministry of Transport has not confirmed or denied if the MOX fuel transport casks to be used for the imminent shipment of MOX fuel from Cherbourg to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata are involved. When the Ministry was asked by the Fukushima Diet office the reply given was, "We cannot answer this due to nuclear safeguards." The reason given by the Ministry for this reply was that answering would reveal how many casks were involved in the shipment.) TN-12B(M) is the model of the cask was the only answer given by the Ministry. (Maritime transport is under the regulatory authority of the Ministry of Transport. If any domestic land transport is involved, then the STA is also the regulatory authority along with the Ministry of Transport.)

The internal documents state the reason given by BNFL for why the inspections were not carried out as required:

At La Hague (COGEMA):
Due to the accident at AMEC (the cask storage facility), operations there were stopped, and cask inspections to be conducted after that date could not take place.

At Sellafiled (BNFL):
Due to preparations underway for the MOX fuel transport that took place in July, the B550 facility (the cask storage facility) could not be used. Therefore, the cask inspections to be done then and after could not be undertaken.

Copies of the internal documents (in Japanese) can be obtained from Green Action

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