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HOME  > Past issues  > 2016 November 16 - 22  > Extension of ‘40-year’ limit to operation of nuclear reactors deepens public concern over nuclear power generation
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2016 November 16 - 22 [SOCIAL ISSUES]
editorial 

Extension of ‘40-year’ limit to operation of nuclear reactors deepens public concern over nuclear power generation

November 21, 2016
Akahata editorial

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) recently extended the operation period of the 40-year-old No.3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Company’s Mihama nuclear power plant (Fukui Prefecture) by an additional 20 years. The NRA already gave the greenlight to a 20-year extension to operate the aged Nos 1 and 2 reactors at KEPCO’s Takahama nuclear power plant (also in Fukui). The policy of decommissioning 40-year-old nuclear reactors which was established after the 2011 nuclear meltdown at the Tokyo Electric Power Company’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been undermined. Regardless of the lifespan, there is no guarantee of the safety of nuclear power reactors. Nevertheless, the NRA carries out safety examinations of nuclear reactors in violation of the “40-year rule”. This will inevitably deepen people’s mistrust in and anxieties over nuclear power generation.

Rare case continues

In the first place, the operation of nuclear power plants entails unacceptable risks. A nuclear accident is totally uncontrollable and brings about irreparable damage. This was clearly revealed by the Fukushima nuclear meltdown which has yet to be brought under control even after five and half years have passed. Given that even relatively new nuclear reactors have a possibility of causing a disaster, no one can deny that aged reactors are likely to produce a crisis as their facility conditions have deteriorated due to their long-term exposure to radiation.

After the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the revision of nuclear laws in principle limited operations of nuclear reactors to up to “40 years” and required nuclear reactors aged 40 years and over to be shut down. However, the new rule includes a “rare exception” which extends aged reactors’ operation period for another 20 years. NRA Chair Tanaka Shun’ichi has reiterated that this exception will be granted to “rare” cases. However, the No.3 reactor at the Mihama NPP is the second case of the application of the exception, following the approval of the Nos 1 and 2 reactors at the Takahama NPP in June. What happened twice will happen again. Violation of the “40-year rule” is a matter of urgent concern.

Regarding both the Takahama and Mihama NPPs, KEPCO has allegedly implemented the necessary “safety” measures to ensure the safety of their extended operations. However, their reactor pressure vessels (RPVs), which are irreplaceable, must be already too fragile to guarantee that they will not cause serious accidents. In addition, not all the aging pipes are replaceable. What the plant operators call “safety” measures are just makeshift fixes like covering the corroded pipes with sheets. Even so, such stopgap measures still require a lot of money and time, requiring at least a few more years to be readied for their extended operations.

Quake- and tsunami-related countermeasures are what must be implemented in preparation for the prolongation of aging reactor operations. However, even some officials of the NRA have admitted that NRA’s safety standards are not enough to prevent accidents from occurring. The authorities gave their approval for the restart of Nos. 3 and 4 reactors at the Takahama NPP in addition to the plant’s Nos.1 and 2 reactors. However, the former two are still under suspension due to a court injunction order. Given these facts, lifetime extension of aging reactors is beyond comprehension.

Japan Atomic Power Co. (JAPCO)’s Tokai Daini NPP (Ibaraki Pref.) and the Nos. 1 and 2 reactors at KEPCO’s Oi NPP (Fukui Pref.) will have been operation for 40 years in just a few years. The “decommissioning of 40-year-old reactors” principle has been dangerously watered down, increasing the risk of accidents.

Review atomic-energy dependence policy

The extension of operations at reactors beyond the accepted 40-year lifespan is what the power industry demands as a way to ensure its interests by continuing to operate already-exhausted reactors. Moreover, the Abe administration is favorably responding to this business demand and continues depending on nuclear energy as a “key baseload power source”. According to the government policy, about 20-22% of the country’s electricity will come from nuclear energy even in fiscal 2030. To reach this goal, the government will not only proceed with the extension of the limit of reactors’ operational lifespans but also permit the rebuilding of existing structures or the building of additional facilities.

It has become even more important to oppose the resumption of NPPs, let alone the extended operations of aging reactors, and to take a step towards establishing “a zero-nuclear power society” in the interest of public safety.

Past related articles:
> Abe gov’t should stop attempting to revive nuclear power-dependent policy [ August 5, 2016]
> NRA declares aged reactors at Takahama NPP meet safety standards [ April 21, 2016]
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