Japan’s nuclear watchdog plans to extend reactor life

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TOKYO (AP) – Japanese nuclear regulators are considering overhauling a safety rating system to allow aging reactors to operate beyond the current 60-year limit, but the move is aimed at preventing safety lapses and is not driven by government efforts to increase nuclear use. power, an official said Monday.

The Nuclear Regulatory Authority Commission, at the request of the Ministry of Economy and Industry, has drawn up a plan to remove the 60-year limit and replace it with a system of potential extensions granted every 10 years after 30 years of operation.

It would be a major change from the current limit of 40 years with a possible one-time extension to 20 years, a rule that was adopted under stricter safety standards set after the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2011.

The draft plan still needs to be formally approved.

This decision drew mixed reactions from the public. Nuclear Regulatory Authority Commissioner Shinsuke Yamanaka denied criticism that the watchdog bowed to government pressure to extend the operational life of the reactors.

“Our judgment in our safety inspections is unaffected regardless of government policy,” Yamanaka said. “We have no intention of compromising our strict security controls.”

Yamanaka pointed out that his agency did not initiate the change and was responding to the government’s request in order to provide security.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said in August that Japan must consider all options in its energy mix, including nuclear, to bolster its “green transformation” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and secure supply. stable energy. Japan has pledged to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Anti-nuclear sentiment and security concerns rose sharply in Japan after the Fukushima disaster, but the government pushed for a return to nuclear power amid fears of power shortages following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and a global push to reduce greenhouse gases. Japan has been criticized for saying it will phase out fossil fuel use by 2050 without giving a clear timetable.

While maintaining a target of 20-22% nuclear power as part of its energy mix for 2030, the Japanese government has previously insisted that it has no plans to build new nuclear power plants or replace existing ones. aging reactors, apparently to avoid triggering criticism from a still wary public.

Kishida, in a major shift towards greater use of nuclear power, has asked a government panel to rule by the end of this year on a proposal to develop and build “innovative new reactors”, such as than small modular nuclear reactors, while asking nuclear officials and experts to consider extending the operational life of aging reactors.

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