August 25, 2022
The government aims to make a major change in its nuclear energy policy, which has denied the construction of new nuclear power plants since the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on August 24. The government also plans to consider extending the operating periods of existing nuclear power plants again and to further promote their restart. The government is moving forward with the use of nuclear power plants because of the tight power supply and demand caused by the crisis in Ukraine. However, there are serious doubts about the safety and security of nuclear power plants, and it is not clear whether the public will understand this. （The government is now considering the use of nuclear power plants.)
The government is clearly stating that it is “considering” the construction of new and additional nuclear power plants…The government is promoting the extension of the operation period and the restart of a total of 17 reactors.
◆Next generation nuclear reactors” – Technology not yet established
We will discuss all options for a stable energy supply. We will discuss all options for a stable energy supply and will not rule out the construction of new reactors. Yuji Iida, director general of the Economic and Industrial Policy Bureau of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), emphasized this before the Green Transformation (GX) Executive Conference, which was held on March 24 to discuss decarbonization policies.
The “Basic Energy Plan” approved by the Cabinet last October did not mention the construction of new nuclear power plants, and successive prime ministers have repeatedly stated that it was not envisioned at this time. Conscious of public sentiment in the aftermath of the nuclear accident, the government has avoided going into the issue.
The new plants to be considered this time are not existing nuclear power plants, but next-generation models, such as nuclear power plants with improved accident countermeasures and small reactors. Although the government emphasizes safety, many of these next-generation reactors are still in the process of being tested overseas, and it is difficult to say that they have been established as commercial power generation facilities.
One official at an electric power company commented, “We don’t have the capacity to build new reactors when we can’t even restart existing nuclear power plants. The first step is to operate the current nuclear power plants and restore their technological capabilities.
◆ Extension of operating period: Regulatory Commission not optimistic
In 2013, after the Fukushima accident, the law was amended to set the operating period of nuclear power plants at 40 years in principle, and to allow for a one-time extension of 20 years. The law was amended in 2013 after the Fukushima accident to allow for a one-time 20-year extension of the 40-year operating period. Four reactors were approved by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), of which Kansai Electric Power’s Mihama Unit 3 (Fukui Prefecture) has restarted.
If the units are operated for more than 60 years, which would mean a re-extension, the law may need to be revised again. At a press conference on March 24, Chairman Toyoshi Sarada of the Regulatory Commission said, “Detailed technical discussions are needed. In the U.S., operation for 80 years is permitted, but Mr. Sarada pointed out that “Japan has many earthquakes, and we should not be dragged down by foreign countries.
◆ Seven new reactors restarted → Inadequate anti-terrorism and evacuation plans hindering operations
The government has also set a target of restarting seven reactors at five nuclear power plants that have yet to be restarted, although they meet the new regulatory standards, sometime after next summer or winter.
In April of last year, the regulatory commission ordered a de facto ban on the operation of TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa Nuclear Power Station in Niigata Prefecture because of a problem with a faulty intrusion detector that had been left unattended. The order was not lifted until the plant was found to be in an improved condition, and its inspections have continued.
Furthermore, Niigata Prefecture has made its own verification work a condition for whether or not it will agree to restart the plant, and the completion of the work is “not foreseeable” (Prefectural Nuclear Safety Division). In light of the inadequacies of the anti-terrorism measures, even a member of the Liberal Democratic Party’s prefectural assembly, which is pro-nuclear power generation, has voiced his desire not to have TEPCO operate the plant, and the sense of distrust is deep-rooted.
The Japan Atomic Power Company’s Tokai No. 2 Nuclear Power Plant in Ibaraki Prefecture has more than 900,000 people living within a 30-kilometer evacuation zone, the largest in the nation, and the plan has been extremely difficult to formulate. In addition to the prefectural government, only five of the 14 municipalities in the prefecture have been able to formulate a plan. In addition, the Mito District Court ordered an injunction against the operation of the plant last March, citing problems with the effectiveness of the evacuation plan.
There is almost no chance that both reactors will be able to operate within the government’s target of a little over a year.