Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) has approved by a majority vote a bill designed to extend the operating life of nuclear reactors beyond 60 years. NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka decided to take a vote on revising the nuclear reactor regulation law for the extension after Akira Ishiwatari, one of the five commissioners, opposed the revision. Usually, NRA decides by consensus. At a meeting last week, Yamanaka decided to discuss the matter again in the wake of Ishiwatari’s protest. NRA said many of 1,749 comments it had received were against the law revision.

NRA’s decision came after Japan's Cabinet formally adopted a policy approving the operation of nuclear reactors beyond their current 60-year limit. It also allows construction of new units to replace ageing reactors. The current law sets the maximum operating period for reactors at 40 years in principle and at 60 years if approved by the regulator. Under the new policy, units will be able to operate beyond the 60-year limit, by excluding periods when they are suspended for safety inspections or some other reasons.

Ishiwatari pointed out that NRA has not yet set specific regulations for reactors operating beyond 60 years. He also noted that under the new system, the longer the NRA takes to conduct a rigorous inspection, the longer the operating period of a reactor will be. At a news conference after the meeting, Yamanaka said he had no choice but to take a vote as there was a fundamental difference of understanding on the operating period. He added that he was “very sorry” for having had to make the voting decision.

The four NRA members other than Ishiwatari supported the outline of the new system and the revision of the law. However, even the members who were in support said during the meeting, “There is a severe lack of explanation (about the government’s policy)” and “It feels uncomfortable that important points (such as how to regulate nuclear reactors operating beyond 60 years) were not called to attention earlier.”

Image: NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka (courtesy of NRA)