Power Line
The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan Vol.18
November 2002

Restoring Confidence in Nuclear Power Plant Operations

ON AUGUST 29, 2002, the Nuclear & Industrial Safety Agency (NISA) of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced that some cracks and other indications of cracks in core internals such as shrouds might not have been made public and repair records might have been falsified at TEPCO’s power plants between the late 1980s and 1990s. This was during the period when General Electric International Inc. (GEII) subcontracted inspection and maintenance works.

NISA also announced that the equipment currently in use does not present serious or imminent safety concerns.

Overview of Boiling Water Reactor(BWR)
Overview of Boiling Water Reactor(BWR)

On September 17, TEPCO acknowledged that such inappropriate activities had occurred for many years under the voluntary inspection procedures carried out by the utilities. TEPCO admitted that management was responsible for failing to detect these problems and that the executives themselves should be held accountable. The current TEPCO president, three former presidents and the executive general manager of the Nuclear Power Division resigned their posts.

TEPCO released background information regarding these maintenance work issues as well as preventive measures to eliminate further occurrences. These preventive measures include improved transparency and disclosure of public information; conducting appropriate business activities by checking all in-company regulations and manuals; and carrying out more stringent internal audits by setting up quality auditing departments in each nuclear power plant and at corporate headquarters. TEPCO also established a Corporate Ethics Committee to ensure that all employees comply with the company’s ethics code.

The electric industry is a business with close regional links, and consumer confidence is regarded as the industry’s most important resource. The problem now faced by TEPCO is also a serious issue for the entire Japanese electric industry. These revelations may not only impair consumer confidence in nuclear energy, but also jeopardize the existing trust between the industry and its customers, which forms the very basis of the electric industry.

The Federation of Electric Power Companies, which comprises ten Japanese utilities, has established a “Panel for Restoring Confidence.” This panel consists of the presidents of the ten utilities and three companies: the Japan Atomic Power Company (JAPC), Japan Nuclear Fuel Limited (JNFL), and the Electric Power Development Co. (EPDC). Through this coalition the entire industry is working together to restore public confidence.

Regarding the falsification of voluntary inspection records, NISA instructed TEPCO, along with fifteen other electric utilities and nuclear-related companies and organizations, to conduct a thorough examination of their implementation and supervision systems of voluntary inspections, so as to ensure similar problems have not occurred. Nuclear operators submitted an interim report on November 15 and a final report is due by the end of March 2003.

TEPCO also announced on October 25 that improper acts had taken place in relation to leak rate inspections conducted on the containment vessel during periodic inspections carried out at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station Unit-1 in 1991 and 1992. As a result NISA took administrative measures directing TEPCO to shut down the unit for one year.

Japanese utilities are undertaking a thorough examination of all procedures as the industry unites in its efforts to restore public confidence as quickly as possible.

Unchanged Commitment to Nuclear Fuel Recycling

In an attempt to strengthen support for the MOX program (the use of MOX fuel—uranium and plutonium extracted through the reprocessing of spent fuel—in light water reactors), the industry will actively work to regain public confidence in nuclear operators and thereby restore general confidence in nuclear power. TEPCO realizes that it is unacceptable from the standpoint of local communities to begin MOX loading at this time until public confidence is restored. However, TEPCO remains committed to MOX and nuclear fuel recycling.

Japanese utilities emphasize that it is essential to employ the nuclear fuel cycle through the implementation of the MOX program in order to ensure a stable, long-term supply of power and energy independence in Japan, which suffers from a scarcity of energy resources.

reprocessing plant
JNFL reprocessing plant, under construction

Japan’s power companies should proceed steadily with the implementation of the MOX program, including the reprocessing of spent fuel, from a long-term perspective, while making efforts to re-establish credibility. Industry will also continue to stress that Japan is firmly committed to the international nuclear non-proliferation regime and to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.