A bill that will allow ageing nuclear reactors to continue operating beyond 60 years has been passed by the Japanese parliament following approval by the Upper House. Reactors will now be able to operate beyond the 60-year limit because periods when they are shut down for safety inspections or court injunctions will in future be excluded from their service time calculation.

In principle, the Law on the Regulation of Nuclear Reactors limits nuclear reactors’ operational periods to 40 years but allows that period to be extended for up to 20 years provided the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) gives its approval. The limit was introduced after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi NPP in 2011, with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, which were in opposition at the time.

However, the bill on decarbonisation of energy sources revises five laws, including the Law on the Regulation of Nuclear Reactors, the Electricity Business Law and the Atomic Energy Basic Law. As a result, the rule relating to nuclear reactors’ operating periods will be removed from the Law on the Regulation of Nuclear Reactors, which is under NRA’s jurisdiction. It will be added instead to the Electricity Business Law, which comes under the Industry Ministry’s jurisdiction.

If an electricity company requests that the operational period of its nuclear reactor be extended, The Industry Ministry will assess the proposal based on whether the extension will contribute to the stable supply of electricity or decarbonisation, or whether the utility made a voluntary effort to improve the reactor safety. NRA will continue to be responsible for ensuring reactor safety.

Economy, Trade & Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that the government will continue holding nationwide in-person or online briefing sessions to deepen public understanding of the law. Using a variety of opportunities, the government will explain its stance thoroughly, and will strive to provide careful explanations to address the public's mistrust and concern about the use of nuclear energy," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.

Image: Japan's Upper House has approved a bill that will allow ageing nuclear reactors to continue operating beyond 60 years (courtesy of Jiji Press)