Japan Nuclear Agency Approves Rule to Extend Life of Nuclear Power Plants

The Yomiuri Shimbun
NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka speaks at a press conference after the meeting on Monday in Tokyo.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority officially decided Monday on a new regulatory rule that will extend the life of nuclear power plants to “over 60 years,” thus approving a bill to amend the relevant law that sets the current rule.

The decision was made at an extraordinary meeting of the five commissioners, who adopted the measure with one dissenting vote, which is considered rare for an important matter decided by the NRA. The dissenting commissioner expressed concerns over safety.

The current rule limits the operational period of a nuclear power plant to “40 years in principle, 60 years maximum.” The new rule would allow the NRA to issue permits for extensions after safety inspections every 10 years or less following the first 30 years of operation, which means plants could remain on line beyond 60 years.

The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry intends to exclude the period during which a plant is shut down for a NRA safety inspection from counting in the operational period.

The meeting to take up the revised bill was initially held on Feb. 8, but Akira Ishiwatari, the commissioner in charge of earthquake and tsunami countermeasures, opposed the measure. The extraordinary meeting on Monday was called to “discuss the matter thoroughly,” but Ishiwatari continued his opposition.

Ishiwatari stated that there are no concrete regulations on what happens after the 60-year mark is reached, and that “we should have a vision.”

“This revision of the bill is not based on new scientific or technical findings,” he added.

NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka had a more positive view. “It is all about making a proper technical judgment as to whether safety standards can be met at a certain point of time,” he said.