Global Energy News Roundup: May 30

Newsroundup42-471x315The Forum on Energy weekly news roundup brings together a mix of global energy stories from around the web. It is published every Thursday morning on Forum on Energy and is available on Twitter via @forumonenergy.

Japan to Start Negotiating TPP
In July, Japan will join 11 other countries in negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Japan is the second-largest economy, next to the United States, to participate in the discussions. The meeting, originally scheduled to take place July 15 through 24, has been extended by one day to include Japan, which cannot participate until related ongoing U.S. domestic procedures conclude. Japanese economic revitalization minister Akira Amari indicated in a May 24 news conference that Japan is in a favorable position to be aggressive in negotiations regarding market access, which cover tariffs on farm products that are vital to Japanese interests.
Sources: The Japan Times, Global Post

JNRA Ranks JAEA as Second to Lowest on Scale of Accident Severity
Japan’s nuclear watchdog, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, ranked last week’s radiation leak at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency lab as the second-lowest level on the international scale of accident severity. The leak, which occurred on May 23 when a nuclear particle experiment went awry, exposed at least 30 people to radiation. The Japan Times reports that “JAEA said Saturday it initially thought the leak was minor and had been confined to the laboratory when the alarm went off. Workers then switched on the ventilation system, sending radioactive contaminants into the air outside the building.” The maximum radiation exposure, at 1.7 millisieverts, is well below the annual allowed maximum of 50 millisieverts for nuclear workers in Japan.
Sources: Bloomberg, The Japan Times

Merkel Struggles with Renewable Costs Ahead of Election
As German Chancellor Angela Merkel campaigns for reelection on September 22, the rising electricity bills borne by consumers could present a challenge to her approval ratings. In May 2011, Merkel announced plans to phase out nuclear power by 2022 following the Fukushima Daiichi accident, and the country has faced an increase in coal power and electricity costs to fund the transition from nuclear power to renewables. A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Association warns that Germany must do more to rein in the costs of the country’s move away from nuclear power. “The German government should maintain its policy course based on a predictable and stable regulatory framework while actively seeking means to reduce the costs,” says Maria van der Hoeven. In the meantime, Carsten Brzeski, chief economist at ING Financial Services’ Brussels office, reports, “There are German companies considering maybe moving parts of their facilities to the U.S. just to go for the much cheaper energy costs.”
Sources: Bloomberg Businessweek, TIME

New England States Protest NRC Nuclear Waste Storage Rules
Attorneys General from the states of Vermont, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut — all Democrats — have petitioned the NRC to revise its nuclear waste storage rules. They argue that the process by which the NRC determines how long structures holding nuclear waste can stay in their communities is flawed. The action by the states is in follow-up to a ruling by a federal appeals court in Washington that called on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to do a full environmental review of the effects of long-term storage. “NRC staff is continuing to ignore serious public health, safety and environmental risks related to long-term, on-site storage,” New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a release. “The communities that serve as de facto long-term radioactive waste repositories deserve a full and detailed accounting of the risks.”
Source: Associated Press

Senator Boxer Calls San Onofre Restart Into Question
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has called upon the Justice Department to investigate whether Southern California Edison (SCE) purposefully misled regulators in the lead up to the 2009-2010 overhaul of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in southern California. Boxer forwarded a letter to the Justice Department that she claims shows SCE knowingly misled the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) by incorrectly claiming the overhaul consisted of a “like-for-like” replacement. “Like-for-like” repairs do not trigger a full NRC review of the operating license. Boxer’s claims come at a difficult time for the San Onofre plant, which has been shut off since January 2012, when a small radiation leak led to the discovery of damage to the generator tubes that circulate radioactive water. SCE has petitioned the NRC to allow the restart of the plant at 70 percent capacity, but three ongoing investigations and Boxer’s push to force the NRC to hold trial-like public hearings have thrown the restart request into doubt. Edison International, SCE’s parent company, has said they may shut down the plant for good if the NRC does not give the go-ahead for the partial restart.
Sources: Associated Press, San Diego Union-Tribune, Los Angeles Times