Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) judged last week that reactors No. 1 and No. 2 at Kansai Electric Power’s Takahama nuclear power plant (NPP) comply with stringent new safety standards introduced following the Fukushima disaster in 2011.
The licence renewal marks a seismic shift for Japan’s nuclear power industry, not only because it paves the way for the reactors’ restart but also because they are already 40 years old.
Under the rules introduced post-Fukushima, reactors should be decommissioned at 40. A 20-year service life extension is allowed, but only under “extremely exceptional” circumstances.
The two reactors must now pass additional regulatory inspections concerning technical details by July 7 and obtain full permission to operate beyond 40, or be scrapped.
Allowing the reactors to restart could raise fears among an already anxious Japanese public over the effectiveness of nuclear safety standards and the NRA’s independence from the government.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a point of placing all decisions regarding licensing reactors firmly in the hands of the NRA. However, its long-term energy supply plan is based on the assumption that reactors will have their service life extended.
With the southern island of Kyushu being struck by two major earthquakes earlier this month, Kyushu Electric’s Sendai NPP is the subject of particular concern.
The NRA has so far approved the restart of five reactors, including another two units at Kansai Electric’s Takahama NPP. They were brought back on line earlier this year but were shut down soon afterwards following a court ruling that banned their reactivation.
The regulator also said last week that it had finished the safety screenings necessary for a restart of the No. 3 reactor at the Ikata NPP in Ehime Prefecture. The NRA adopted in July 2015 a report that concluded the reactor’s basic design complies with Japan’s new safety standards and last month approved a plan detailing construction improvements to its design.
Owner Shikoku Electric hopes to restart the reactor – which is now undergoing pre-use inspection by the NRA – in late July.