From: Risa Maeda, Reuters, TOKYO
Published January 18, 2012 06:53 AM

Japan extends allowed operating life of nuclear reactors

Japan will allow nuclear reactors to operate for up to 60 years in revised regulations on power plant operators even as it looks to shift gradually away from atomic power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.


The move on Wednesday, which marks the first time Japan will set a limit on a reactor's maximum lifespan, comes while the country debates a new energy strategy that is expected to give a greater role to renewable, clean energy sources.

The government said it aims to introduce the 60-year limit a year from now as part of a comprehensive revision of laws regulating nuclear plant operators in the wake of Fukushima, where reactor cooling systems were stopped by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, triggering meltdowns and radiation leaks that led to mass evacuations and widespread contamination.

Public anxiety sparked by Fukushima has prevented the restart of many reactors shut for routine checks, and only five of the nation's 54 reactors remain online, prompting utilities to import more fossil fuels to bridge the gap and prevent power cuts.

In a rare protest, a group of citizen observers delayed a hearing at the energy ministry in which experts were expected to approve stress test results from Fukui prefecture's Ohi reactors.

"How can you allow the restart of reactors? We should not put people in Fukui in the same situation as those in Fukushima," said Wako Shichinohe, 59, an observer who came to watch the meeting.

Stress tests are now being carried out on reactors to reassure the public and persuade local governments to allow them to be restarted.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura told reporters details are still under consideration but the lifespan of a reactor would in principle be 40 years, as suggested by Environment and Nuclear Accident Prevention Minister Goshi Hosono earlier this month.

The government will allow plant operators to apply for one extension of up to 20 years for each reactor, in line with U.S. standards, and approval would only be granted if certain conditions were met.

Photo shows Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant No. 2 reactor building in this handout photo taken September 15, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tokyo Electric Power Co/Handout

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