Expansion of nuke plant lifespans 'never' the norm, but exceptions

January 25, 2012

By SHINICHI SEKINE / Staff Writer

The Noda administration on Jan. 24 moved closer to finalizing a bill on nuclear safety reforms that will limit the operational life of nuclear power reactors to 40 years in principle.

The bill will, however, leave room for an extension of up to 20 years. In such instances, it will clearly state that it involves an exceptional case.

The administration is seeking Cabinet approval of the bill as early as Jan. 27 so that it can submit the proposed legislation to the current Diet session. It should be enacted by the end of March.

While the bill limits the lifespan of nuclear reactors to 40 years in principle, an extension of up to 20 years may be endorsed--but only once per reactor. This would be done at the request of the reactor's operator, on condition that the environment minister decides that safety standards are met, including the extent of deterioration of equipment and the technological caliber of the operating body.

An earlier draft said that extension "must be endorsed" if the safety standards are met. That invited criticism from many members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, who argued that it was tantamount to saying reactors have the go-ahead to operate for 60 years.

As a result, the text was revised to "may be endorsed" to make room for intervention by the environment minister.

The announcement on Jan. 6 by Goshi Hosono, the state minister in charge of handling the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, of a plan to obligate nuclear reactors to be decommissioned after 40 years of operation was followed by differing opinions as to the meaning of the optional 20-year extension. The dispute is finally going to be settled by stating clearly that the maximum 20-year extensions are an exceptional measure.

The bill also states that the new regulatory body on nuclear power, which will be created under the Environment Ministry in April, will be named an equivalent of "nuclear regulatory agency." The initially proposed name was "nuclear safety agency," but that was amended following a DPJ recommendation in December.

The DPJ panel on the environment, the DPJ panel on Cabinet affairs and the DPJ project team on bringing the nuclear disaster under control held a joint meeting on Jan. 24 and approved the bill in principle.

There has so far been no clearly defined standard for the operational life of nuclear reactors. The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency has screened the safety of equipment at nuclear reactors that have operated for 30 years or more and endorsed extensions of 10 years at a time.

By SHINICHI SEKINE / Staff Writer
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An aerial view of the Mihama nuclear power plant in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture. The No. 1 reactor, background, has been in service for 42 years, while the No. 2 reactor, center, has been operating for 40 years, and the No. 3 reactor, foreground, has been in service for 36 years. (The Asahi Shimbun)

An aerial view of the Mihama nuclear power plant in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture. The No. 1 reactor, background, has been in service for 42 years, while the No. 2 reactor, center, has been operating for 40 years, and the No. 3 reactor, foreground, has been in service for 36 years. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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  • An aerial view of the Mihama nuclear power plant in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture. The No. 1 reactor, background, has been in service for 42 years, while the No. 2 reactor, center, has been operating for 40 years, and the No. 3 reactor, foreground, has been in service for 36 years. (The Asahi Shimbun)

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