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Editorial: Operational limit of 40 years for nuclear reactors is unreasonable

  • 2015-03-19 15:00:00
  • , Sankei
  • Translation

(Sankei: March 19, 2015 – p.2)


 It has been decided that five out of the seven aging nuclear reactors that have been in operation for around 40 years will be decommissioned.


 The decision was made by the boards of directors of the power companies that own the reactors – Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., Japan Atomic Power Company, Chugoku Electric Power Co., Inc., and Kyushu Electric Power Co., Inc.


 The decision is a result of the restriction of operational duration of 40 years, in principle, that was introduced in response to the incident at the Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.


 The nuclear reactors might have been permitted to be operated up to 20 additional years if the owner companies had applied for a one-time extension after implementing major countermeasures.


 However, of the seven reactors, only two, Takahama No. 1 and No. 2 (Fukui Prefecture) of the Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., were excluded from the decision to decommission the reactors.


 The same company has decided to decommission the Mihama No. 1 and No. 2 reactors (Fukui Prefecture). One of reasons the electric utilities have decided to decommission the reactors this time is the cost issue.


 Compared to new nuclear power plants, older ones have less power generation capacity. It would not be commercially viable to implement countermeasures for them that would cost nearly 100 billion yen.


 However, there is a more important reason that should not be overlooked.


 The system that sets the 40-year limit and extension period is flawed. First of all, the inspection period by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is too short. It is only one year and three months at maximum.


 Even when the operational limit of 40 years is approaching, electric companies are not allowed to apply for an extension prior to the inspection period of one year and three months to one year before the expiration. If the expiration date comes during the inspection, the reactor in question must be decommissioned. If the commission’s inspection proceeds at a slow pace, the company has no other choice than to decommission the reactor.


 Furthermore, although the maximum extension period is 20 years, the length of the actual extension cannot be foreseen. The decision is under the control of the commission. Under such circumstances, electric companies cannot draw up their business plans. Given the large amount of money and human resources necessary, electric companies will naturally hesitate to apply for an extension.


 The revision of such an unreasonable system is urgently required. If it is left unchanged, Japan’s nuclear power generation will eventually approach zero, which will cause the nation’s power to decline. Can we afford such a situation?


 Even though the nuclear power plants have been operating for many years, most of the machinery has been replaced, so the concept of deterioration does not apply.

 The mission of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission should be to provide an assurance of safety in the utilization of nuclear power generation, not to decommission nuclear reactors. The commission should bear that in mind. As administrative organizations, the commission and the Nuclear Regulatory Agency need to improve their awareness of the situation.

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