Japan Considers Extending Kansai Electric’s Nuclear Reactors Lifespan to 60 Years
Japan’s Kansai Electric Power is seeking permission to extend the lifespan of its nuclear reactors by 20 years amid an energy shortage and high energy costs. But will the country’s regulators grant permission, and how will the public react to the idea of living with nuclear reactors for an additional two decades?
Kansai Electric Power, a Japanese utility, has submitted a request to the country’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to extend the operating life of its Takahama nuclear plant’s No. 3 and No. 4 reactors by 20 years. The reactors, which started operations in 1985, are set to reach their 40-year lifespan limit in 2025. Kansai Electric Power plans to replace its steam generator units to improve reliability after finding decay in a steam generator at the Takahama No. 3 reactor last year.
The Japanese government’s current guidelines limit a reactor’s operating life to 40 years, with a one-time option to extend it by 20 years, prioritizing safety. However, in February, the government introduced a bill to allow reactors to operate beyond 60 years, excluding the time spent under post-Fukushima disaster safety scrutiny. The bill is still under discussion in parliament and is expected to conclude on June 21st.
The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 had a significant impact on Japan’s nuclear industry, leading to the shutdown of all of the country’s nuclear reactors by May 2012. Since then, the Japanese government has been working to improve the safety and regulatory framework of the industry to prevent a similar accident from happening again.
While the Fukushima disaster has certainly influenced Japan’s approach to nuclear energy, it is not the only factor driving the decision to expand the lifespan of its nuclear reactors. The country has been grappling with an energy shortage and high energy costs, as it has had to rely more heavily on imported fossil fuels since the shutdown of its nuclear reactors. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has exacerbated risks to Japan’s energy security.
Japan has already approved four nuclear reactors to operate beyond 40 years, including the Mihama No. 3, Takahama No. 1 and No. 2, and Tokai Daini reactors. Only the Mihama reactor is currently online, while the two Takahama reactors are scheduled to resume operations in June and July. The Tokai Daini reactor is still awaiting permission from local authorities to resume commercial operations.
Extending the lifespan offers Japan an arguably stable supply of energy, continued use of existing infrastructure, avoiding the need for costly and time-consuming construction of news power generation sources. However, extending the lifespan of nuclear power plants also raises concerns about safety, as aging reactors may become more susceptible to accidents or failures.
Additionally, the storage of nuclear waste remains a long-term challenge that needs to be addressed. In April 2021, the Japanese government announced that it would begin releasing more than one million tons of treated radioactive water from the Fukushima nuclear disaster into the ocean over the course of several years. This decision has been met with significant criticism and concern from both domestic and international communities.
The treated water, which has been stored in tanks on the Fukushima site since the 2011 disaster, contains tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that is difficult to remove. While the government and the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), have stated that the water will be diluted and released in a controlled manner, there are still concerns about the potential environmental and health impacts of this decision.
Opponents of the plan argue that releasing the water could damage marine ecosystems and harm the livelihoods of local fishermen. There are also concerns that the decision could damage Japan’s international reputation and hurt the country’s seafood exports.
The decision to release the water has been called a difficult but necessary step by the Japanese government, which has stated that the treated water meets safety standards and that the release is necessary to free up space for the tanks needed to store contaminated soil and other debris from the disaster. The release is scheduled to begin in 2023 and is expected to take several years to complete.
Does Japan have alternative energy sources besides nuclear?
The country has been investing heavily in renewable energy sources, such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power, since the Fukushima disaster in 2011. However, these renewable sources currently account for only a small fraction of the country’s energy mix, with fossil fuels still making up the majority.
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