Japan pivots back to nuclear

In a major policy shift, Japan’s Cabinet has approved a policy to allow new nuclear power reactors to be constructed.

More than a decade after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, nuclear power remains a difficult issue in Japan, where only a handful of its 30-odd plants are currently operating.

The recent vote of approval also extends to the operation of existing reactors, which are to be extended from 40 to 60 years.

Since the summer, an advisory panel has been considering the implementation of major changes in energy, all industries, and the economy and society in order to achieve the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050

Under the new policy, Japan will maximise the use of existing reactors by restarting as many of them as possible and prolonging the operating life of ageing ones beyond the current 60-year limit. 

The government also said the country will develop advanced reactors to replace those that are decommissioned.

Under revised regulations which came into force in July 2013, Japanese reactors have a nominal operating period of 40 years. Extensions may be granted once only and are limited to a maximum of 20 years, contingent on exacting safety requirements.

On 21 December, Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority approved a draft of a new rule that would allow the reactors to be operated for more than the current limit of 60 years. Under the amendment, the operators of reactors in use for 30 years or longer must formulate a long-term reactor management plan and gain approval from the regulator at least once every 10 years if they are to continue to operate.