Japanese consortium to make new advanced reactor following policy change on nuclear power

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Japanese major Mitsubishi Heavy Industries announced last week that it is collaborating with four power utilities in the country to develop a next-generation nuclear power reactor that would be safer than the existing type of pressurised water reactors.  

The four utilities, which are in the consortium building the SRZ-1200 advanced light water reactor that will generate up to 1,200 MW of electricity, are the Hokkaido Electric Power, Shikoku Electric Power, Kyushu Electric Power, and Kansai Electric Power. 

The development comes after the Japanese government’s announcement in late August this year that it would support the development of next-generation nuclear power facilities, marking a dramatic reversal of its earlier policy of a freeze on new nuclear plant construction following the Fukushima accident resulting from the tsunami in 2011. 

“Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. (MHI) in collaboration with four Japanese power utilities, has developed the conceptual design of an advanced light water reactor ‘SRZ-1200’. This reactor has additional safety features when compared to conventional pressurized light water reactors. These efforts will ensure new innovative nuclear technologies are available toward a stable energy supply for Japan”, a company statement said. 

“The SRZ-1200 is a 1,200 MWe class advanced light water reactor designed based on enhanced Japanese regulatory safety standards which incorporates lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi accident. Development of the SRZ-1200 is in progress which will ensure the regulatory requirements of ‘strengthening safety equipment’ and ‘resistance to natural disaster and security against terrorism and unforeseen event’ are fulfilled”, the statement added.   

According to Nikkei Asia, the consortium aims to launch the reactors by mid-2030s. The pressurised light-water reactors (LWRs) from Mitsubishi serves as the foundation for the project, which all four utilities already use for their nuclear plants. The amount of electricity it can generate will be up to 1.2 million kilowatts. 

The main goal of the project is to enhance the reactor’s control-rod drive mechanism that controls nuclear reactions, and to halve output or restart the reactor in 17 minutes, which is only a quarter of the time it takes for conventional reactors.  

Nikkei said the consortium wants to reduce the proposed reactor’s probability of sustaining damage to less than one percent of current models by installing it underground and fortifying the outer walls of the containment vessel. A “core catcher” will be also placed underneath the containment vessel to stop molten fuel from leaking in the event of a meltdown. 

Japan currently has seven operating reactors, with three others offline due to maintenance. Citing a study last year by the Japan Atomic Industrial Forum, Nikkei Asia said “the total investment for the year ending March 2021 was 16.6 billion yen ($121.6 million), which is less than half of the 35.3 billion yen in 2010.” 

In August this year, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida declared that the country should consider introducing additional next-generation reactors and increasing the lifespan of its existing reactors. He also urged the restarting of more idled nuclear plants that were shut down after the Fukushima accident.  

The Prime Minister also told reporters he had instructed officials to come up with concrete measures by the year’s end, including on “gaining the understanding of the public” on sustainable energy and nuclear power. The Japanese government said earlier this year that it hoped to restart more nuclear reactors in time to avert any power crunch during the winter.