The government is planning a legal revision that would allow nuclear power plants to operate for a maximum of 60 years before being decommissioned.
Toru Ogino, an official in a unit under the Cabinet Secretariat preparing a new safety regulatory body for nuclear energy, said nuclear plants would in principle only be allowed to operate for 40 years, with the possibility of an extension that would last 20 years at most.
Government officials are preparing legislation to revise the law regulating nuclear reactors for submission to the Diet when it convenes later this month.
On Jan. 6, Goshi Hosono, the state minister in charge of overseeing the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, said nuclear plants would in principle only be allowed to operate for 40 years.
"The hurdles for operating a plant beyond 40 years have become considerably higher,” Hosono said, regarding possible exceptions to extend the life of a nuclear plant. “Allowing operations beyond that time frame will be an extremely exceptional case."
While some local governments are unsure about the time period of the nuclear plants they host, Hosono is currently on a trip abroad so confirmation could not immediately be made.
Officials of electric power companies welcomed the possibility of an extension of up to 20 years as it would help them provide a stable supply of electricity.
Under the new system, any electric power company seeking an operation extension beyond 40 years will have to submit an application to the nuclear safety agency that will be established in April as an external agency of the Environment Ministry.
Such applications can be made only once for a nuclear reactor.
Agency officials will evaluate the aging of the plant as well as the technological capabilities of the electric power company. An extension will only be approved if the company is considered to have met the agency’s standards.
Officials said the 40-year operation period and the 20-year extension were based on global trends, such as practices in the United States.
While the legal revision will state that extensions can last for 20 years or less, a Cabinet order could be issued to set shorter, more specific time periods, such as five or 10 years.
The standards to be used to decide if an extension is warranted will be based on the opinions of experts after the nuclear safety agency is established.
Government officials said those standards would be stricter than the ones now in place.
In the past, aging nuclear plants were allowed extensions after 30 years of operations based on appraisals conducted by the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. Extensions were approved for 10-year periods.
While the details of the new system have not yet been decided, a system to periodically confirm the safety of the nuclear plants will likely be maintained.
Another committee will also be established to oversee the regulations implemented by the nuclear safety agency. The new committee will also look into the causes and damages from accidents at nuclear facilities.
The investigative committee would be given the administrative authority to question relevant individuals, conduct searches of facilities and issue orders to submit evidence. Investigative reports would be publicized and the committee would also have the right to offer recommendations to the environment minister and the head of the nuclear safety agency.
Because such a structure was not in place after the Fukushima nuclear accident, the Cabinet of Prime Minister Naoto Kan approved the formation of a government panel to investigate the accident.
The nuclear safety agency will begin with about 500 officials and a budget of about 50 billion yen ($653 million). Unlike NISA, the new agency would be separated from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to reduce the influence of the ministry in charge of promoting nuclear energy.
- « Prev
- Next »