View from Japan:
Bridging the transition to a safe & secure energy future

by Shunsuke Kondo

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On the other hand, the AEC also requests to develop and apply advanced technologies for increased output of existing units, longer-term reliable operation of existing units, high burn-up fuel to improve the economy of operation, and economical dismantling of nuclear facilities and management of radioactive wastes generated in the process, adopting risk-informed decision making of inspection and maintenance activities and accountability-conscious quality management systems. These measures are essential to the maintenance of a high level of safety, safeguards and security, continuously improving the economy of the construction and operation of fuel cycle facilities as well as nuclear power units. We request that these activities be promoted with toughness, resolution, and consideration to details, as they directly affect the performance of existing plants and facilities and around 70% of the general public still feels uneasy toward the safety of nuclear facilities, swayed by widespread media coverage of any incident when it occurs.

In parallel with these kind of activities, the nuclear community should prepare relevant measures to mitigate the effects caused by crises that hamper the sustainable use of nuclear energy as well as implement effective measures to prevent the occurrence of such crises. Furthermore, the growing universality of technology now makes successful innovation much more frequently driven by market forces. It is thus important for the nuclear community to pursue the environment shaping strategy that aims at realizing synergistic coexistence of nuclear reactor systems with various industries besides the electricity industry. This entails building networks for mutual learning, knowledge-sharing, and joint deliberation, starting from those utilizing radioactivity and radiation for industrial, medical, scientific and other activities. This will serve to make the man on the street familiar with the application of radiation, radioactivity, and nuclear reactions.

The objectives of the mid-term plan are to develop more economically competitive and "human-conscious" plants that can compete with emerging non-nuclear power technologies for replacement and addition of generation capacity. The need for pursuing this objective is clear. The competitive operation of today's units and facilities by no means guarantees the adoption of the same type of plants and facilities for replacement of retiring units or for the addition of capacity.

In this age of technological innovation, deregulation of the electricity market is sharply altering the financial landscape for utilities, which are no longer guaranteed a fixed return on investment. This makes it extremely difficult to justify the design and construction of capital-intensive plants to stockholders. Added factors are the emergence of innovative and "neighbor-friendly" modular power generation technologies such as renewable energy sources and fuel cells.

Actions to be taken for pursuing this objective are to reduce the capital cost of nuclear power plants by new designs with, for example, innovative concepts and components; to improve robustness of nuclear power plants in safety and reliability by adoption of passive safety features; to minimize environmental impact by reducing volumes of radioactive waste generated during the decommissioning as well as operation of facilities; and to improve the "human consciousness" of nuclear plants by pursuing low occupational exposure to radiation, low workloads in operation, maintenance, and emergency situations.

The major investment for these activities should come from private sectors that operate the plants and facilities. However, government should support research and development for actions of a long-term and/or generic nature. This will ensure that a broad range of technologies is developed that promises to enhance the long-term performance of various types of existing and future facilities.

We believe that the nuclear community should prepare itself better for changes in our society. We are living in a period of "profound transition", according to Peter Drucker, the renowned policy strategist. The evidence to support his assertion is seen in Japanese society:

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