Japan’s decommissioning challenges open door to UK expertise

Dr Keith Franklin at the Department for International Trade in Tokyo on Japan’s nuclear phase-out plans.

Nuclear Fukushima Power Plant Getty

Since the Great Tohoku earthquake in 2011, a series of dramatic changes and reforms have reshaped the Japanese nuclear industry, the relationships between its key stakeholders and has resulted in Japan entering a phase of decommissioning. The decommissioning industry in Japan has not yet fully developed, and there is a keenness to learn from overseas experience. There is a particular interest in UK capability, where the decommissioning and waste management challenges of sites such as Sellafield and Dounreay have similarities to the work to be done at Fukushima Dai-ichi. Lessons learnt from the ongoing decommissioning of the Magnox fleet will also be of great interest to Japan, as power generators start to take the step towards changing into decommissioning organisations. 

First steps checklist

  • Highlighting case studies and real examples is important; try to avoid generic statements about being a ‘world class supplier of nuclear services’, which don’t really explain what you have to offer     
  • Do your research. There is a large amount of information available online in English. Offer something the country needs but doesn’t yet have
  • Understand that a large proportion of the work will go to local companies, so emphasise your unique experience. However, you will likely need to have a local partner for any work you do
  • Differentiate but don’t criticise competitors. Price isn’t always a factor – working with overseas companies is difficult, as communication, contracting, etc takes longer due to the language differences. A domestic supplier may win out even if you feel you are cheaper
  • Make it clear you are in the country for the long run. Long-term relationships are important, and it may take time before you reach a commercial arrangement. Be prepared to take on small contracts first to build confidence in your company

Current situation

Not all reactors in Japan were shut down automatically following the Great Tohoku earthquake. Reactors unaffected by the quake and subsequent tsunami kept operating until their scheduled outage dates. Thereafter, reactors have been allowed to restart once they passed new safety tests imposed by the new Japanese regulator. There are currently only a handful of PWR reactors that have been successfully restarted, with most of the remaining fleet actively pursuing restarts. In some cases, utilities have earmarked certain reactors for decommissioning. Although the main focus for Japanese utilities is fixed on restarting their remaining fleet, decommissioning and waste management plans are beginning to take shape.

Who is responsible for decommissioning?

Decommissioning in Japan should be considered in two distinct categories: the ongoing progress at Fukushima Dai-ichi and the planned decommissioning of older reactors across the country. Unlike the UK, the decommissioning liabilities of the fleet are not held by one central entity but by the utility, who is responsible for funding and executing the work. On the other hand, Fukushima Dai-ichi presents many first-of-a-kind challenges for the industry and remains a government priority and will be paid for through a funding scheme involving Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the Japanese government and the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Cooperation, which came into force on 1 April 2018. Main contractors supporting the utilities include Hitachi, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Toshiba.

Get help from:

UK Department for International Trade
To increase your competitiveness in Asia Pacific contact:

Celina Cao, Head of Nuclear in China (celina.cao@fco.gov.uk)
Chris Hay, Sector Manager for China in London (christopher.hay@trade.gov.uk)

Dr Keith Franklin, Nuclear Specialist in Tokyo (keith.franklin@fco.gov.uk)

UK Export Finance
For trade finance and insurance cover, please visit www.gov.uk/government/organisations/uk-exportfinance

EIC Asia Pacific
The EIC’s team is on hand to support you in doing business in Asia Pacific. For services including market intelligence, project data, industry connections and export assistance, email kualalumpur@the-eic.com  

Entering the market

One of the most valued selling-points is reliability, confidence and proven capability. The ongoing work at Fukushima Dai-ichi is closely monitored and there is a global desire to ensure that the impressive progress is upheld. UK experience across this field could be invaluable as leaders in decommissioning with experience in building and maintaining a healthy supply chain around the challenges faced at sites such as Sellafield. Waste characterisation, retrievals, packaging and management are examples of areas in which UK support would be welcomed especially if proposals can be backed up with demonstrable success.

Japan is a good place to do business, but it does take time. If you are thinking of entering the Japanese market, the Department for International Trade can help you to understand the first steps to take.

Useful resources

Organisation Web  
Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) www.meti.go.jp/english/earthquake/nuclear/decommissioning/index.html Latest on the situation in Fukushima Dai-ichi and recovery of the surrounding area
Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) www.tepco.co.jp/en/index-e.html Daily updates on Fukushima Dai-ichi and progress on the decommissioning and clean-up operation
Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Cooperation (NDF) www.dd.ndf.go.jp/eindex.html English copy of the strategic plan for Fukushima Dai-ichi
International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning(IRID) www.irid.or.jp/en Latest research by the IRID consortium
Export to Japan www.exporttojapan.co.uk/sector/nuclear Specific advice on the nuclear market in Japan


By Dr Keith Franklin, Nuclear Specialist, Department for International Trade, British Embassy Tokyo

Image credit | Getty