Japan adopts plan to maximize nuclear power, in major shift

TOKYO (AP) — Japan on Thursday adopted a plan to extend the lifespan of nuclear reactors, replace old ones and even build new ones, a major shift in a country scarred by the Fukushima disaster that once planned to phase out power atomic.

Faced with global fuel shortages, rising prices and pressure to reduce carbon emissionsJapan’s leaders have begun to turn to nuclear power, but the announcement was their clearest commitment yet after staying silent on sensitive issues such as the possibility of building new reactors.

Under the new policy, Japan will maximize the use of existing reactors by restarting as many as possible and extending the operational life of the oldest ones beyond a 60-year limit. The government has also pledged to develop next-generation reactors.

In 2011, a powerful earthquake and subsequent tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. — a disaster that supercharged anti-nuclear sentiment in Japan and at one point led the government to vow to phase out power around 2030. But since then, the government has recommitted to the technology, including setting a nuclear target to offset . 20-22% of the country’s energy matrix at the end of the decade.

Still, restart approvals for idle nuclear reactors have come slowly since the Fukushima disaster, which led to tougher safety standards. Utility companies have requested restarts at 27 reactors in the past decade. Seventeen have passed security controls and only 10 have resumed operation.

According to the document setting out the new policy, nuclear power plays “an important role as a carbon-free baseload power source to achieve supply stability and carbon neutrality” and pledged to “sustain the use of energy nuclear power in the future”. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he planned to have the cabinet approve the policy and submit the necessary bills to parliament.

As part of the new policy, the Ministry of Economy and Industry drew up a plan to allow extensions every 10 years for reactors after 30 years of operation, while also allowing utilities to subtract offline periods. in the calculation of the operational life of the reactors.

The plan was endorsed on Wednesday by the Nuclear Regulatory Authority, Japan’s nuclear watchdog. The new security inspection rules still need to be enacted and approved by Parliament.

Regulatory authority commissioner Shinichi Yamanaka told a news conference that new safety rules requiring operating permits every decade after 30 years will be safer than the current one-time 20-year extension option for 40-year reactors. . But experts cast some doubts about it.

Takeo Kikkawa, an economics professor at Japan International University and an energy expert, said utility operators under the new policy could continue to use old equipment instead of investing in new technology or renewable energy.

“Naturally, we need to target newer technology and use it safely. Therefore, extending the life of the reactors is an undesirable move,” Kikkawa said recently on a talk show.

Most of the nuclear reactors in Japan are over 30 years old. Four reactors that have operated for more than 40 years have received permission to operate and one is currently online.

Under the new policy, Japan will also push for the development and construction of “innovative next-generation reactors” to replace around 20 reactors now slated for decommissioning.

Kenichi Oshima, a professor of environmental economics and energy policy at Ryukoku University, said that some of the reactors the government calls “innovative” are not that different from existing technology and that the prospects for nuclear fusion and other reactors in the near future generation are largely uncertain and unattainable. anytime.

The adoption of the new policy on Thursday comes less than four months after Kishida launched the “GX (Green Transformation) Implementation Council” of outside experts and ministers to “consider all options” to compile a new policy addressing the global fuel shortage amid Russia’s war against Ukraine. and seeks to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

Nuclear power accounts for less than 7% of Japan’s power supply, and achieving the government’s goal of increasing that share to 20-22% by 2030 will require around 27 reactors, out of 10 currently, a goal some say is not. it is achievable. The new policy also doesn’t help address looming supply shortages because reactors can’t restart fast enough.

While public opinion on nuclear power has softened since Fukushima, opponents still argue that atomic power is not flexible or even cheaper than renewables when final waste management and necessary safety measures are considered. and that can cause immeasurable damage in an accident.

Ruiko Muto, a survivor of the Fukushima disaster, called the new policy “extremely disappointing.” She added: “The Fukushima disaster is not over yet and the government seems to have forgotten what happened.”

The regulator came under fire on Wednesday after revelations by a civic group that some of its experts had discussed details with industry ministry officials before the watchdog was officially asked to consider a rule change for aging reactors, despite their mandatory independence.

Prime Minister Kishida also said on Thursday that the government would do more to find candidate final repository sites for high-level nuclear waste that Japan does not yet have. Preliminary studies have started in two small towns in Hokkaido, angering some residents.

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