(Nikkei: January 8, 2015 – p. 2)
An experts’ panel of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has compiled an interim report on issues relating to nuclear energy policy. The report recommends a review of accounting systems to facilitate the decommissioning of nuclear power plants and the prompt formulation of standards for the disposal of radioactive waste resulting from decommissioning.
The electric power companies need to decide which nuclear plants they will retain and which they will decommission under new rules. It is important to create the environment to facilitate the decommissioning of nuclear plants that have served their purpose. We hope that timely steps will be taken to deal with the issues cited by the experts’ panel.
After the government revised the regulations on nuclear reactors in 2012, the life span of nuclear plants is basically set at 40 years, with only one extension of 20 years possible if certain conditions are met. Whether to undertake renovation work to enhance safety and apply for an extension or decommission is a business decision for the power companies to make. However, conditions conducive for decommissioning are not in place.
When reactors have to be decommissioned ahead of schedule due to changes in the government’s regulations, for instance, the power companies have to enter a huge loss in their books. Decommissioning decisions must not be delayed just for accounting reasons.
The report seeks changes to the accounting systems to allow booking the utilities’ losses not in a single year but over several years to soften the impact on financial accounting. This is a necessary change.
Retailing of electric power will be liberalized completely in 2016. The electric companies currently collect an extra electricity charge to fund reserves to cover decommissioning costs. A mechanism needs to be established that allows them to secure funds for decommissioning even after liberalization, which will require them to compete with many market players.
Certain kinds of nuclear waste resulting from the dismantling of reactors, such as their core components, must be buried underground in accord with current government regulations, but there are no explicit standards. The Nuclear Regulation Authority has just begun to make the rules. We hope they will work on this steadily.
The panel report also asks for the identification of disposal sites for nuclear waste from decommissioning. Another issue is storage facilities for spent fuel after decommissioning. The power companies and the government need to work together on this. The report is also right in recommending the development of technology and human resources for decommissioning and post-decommissioning assistance to communities hosting the nuclear facilities.
By July 2016, there will be seven nuclear plants reaching their 40-year life span. The decision on whether to extend or decommission needs to be made by next July. Steady decommissioning of old reactors with safety issues will not only enhance trust in the power companies, but will also help promote understanding for the reactivation of nuclear plants.