TEPCO and Sellafield Partnering in Nuclear Decommissioning

British Companies With Expertise in Decommissioning Can Find Business Opportunities in Japan

The British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) in association with the Department for International Trade (DIT) organised a panel discussion on UK-Japan strategic partnerships in nuclear decommissioning.

Nearly 6 years have passed since the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011, which resulted in major nuclear accidents at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Between 2014 and 2016, the UK and Japan have signed a series of agreements designed to strengthen cooperation and collaboration between both countries.

Roger Cowton, Head of External Affairs at Sellafield, Masayuki Yamamoto of the Nuclear International Relations and Strategy Group at TEPCO, and Dr. Keith Franklin, on secondment at the British Embassy from the UK’s National Nuclear Laboratory participated in the panel discussion, which was moderated by Leo Lewis, Tokyo Correspondent for the Financial Times.

Sellafield and TEPCO are Partnering on Nuclear Decommissioning in Japan

Nuclear fuel reprocessing and nuclear decommissioning site Sellafield and TEPCO have been working closely together as they currently have a bilateral agreement in place to share their experiences of dealing with challenging decommissioning issues.

The UK possesses expertise and experience in all stages of nuclear operations and decommissioning, providing valuable real-life experience to TEPCO as Fukushima Daiichi heads towards decommissioning.

Yamamoto spoke about the challenges being faced by the Fukushima Daiichi site, which include waste management of the contaminated water and radioactive waste.

Fukushima and Sellafield actually have several similarities, including a proximity to the ocean and a similar site size.

“We have learned a lot of good practices from Sellafield,” said Yamamoto.

Franklin explained that the technical challenges at the sites are similar, and therefore there is a lot of scope for the UK to partner with Japan on this specific issue.

Cowton was on hand to speak about the legacy of Sellafield. By 2020 there will be no more reprocessing in the UK, and Sellafield is keen to support the global nuclear industry with decommissioning in the future. He sees Sellafield as being in a position to “lead and learn,” and this view is serving Fukushima well.

He also commented on the question of measuring progress, and working with stakeholders and community representatives during the decommissioning of a nuclear site.

A long-term view is needed in the case of nuclear decommissioning. In the case of Sellafield, management have a vision for 2120 – a programme of decommissioning over 103 years.

Such a long time period then needs to be broken down into manageable chunks of 10 to 15 years, and then even further to 3 years, making progress measurable.

Fukushima will need to take a similar view to ensure a successful decommissioning operation well into the future.

Next Steps at Fukushima Daiichi

The first step, as indicated by Yamamoto, is to investigate the physical characteristics of the material. Several universities and organisations are developing technology designed to help monitor the state of the material in the reactors at Fukushima.

Once the condition of the material has been determined, it will help understand the accident, which will inform and improve safety regulations at nuclear power plants in Japan and the rest of the world.

In addition, all of the new technology being developed to handle the situation at Fukushima will be useful for other industries across the world.

The accident in 2011 was also a learning curve, as the regulatory frameworks have been re-evaluated and designs of nuclear power plant sites worldwide have been revised.

Dr Franklin emphasised that the procedures for site management are differ according to whether the nuclear site is operational or in decommissioning.

Sellafield, with experience across both of these aspects, has big scope for collaboration with other sites around the world that needs this same technology and expertise.

Managing stakeholder relations and engagement is a critical aspect of any nuclear decommissioning, and the risks at Sellafield are the same as at any industrial site, explained Cowton.

For Japan, having security in their energy policy in the future will be reliant on having an appropriate energy mix, said Dr Franklin. This will ensure that supply is able to meet demand in a way that is cost effective for the consumer and able to meet climate change goals.

The current focus on nuclear in Japan is to restart the nuclear plants that have passed inspection and been evaluated as being safe, and in the future experts will consider whether life extensions or new build are the way forward.

Japan and the UK will continue working closely on decommissioning at Fukushima Daiichi and the close partnership between TEPCO and Sellafield will continue moving forward.

There are opportunities for UK companies to do business in the nuclear industry in Japan.

Contact DIT Japan’s nuclear team to find out how you could be doing business in Japan.


Article and photo by Vanessa Holden, January 2017.