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NRA delays easing reactor rules after one expert objects

Akira Ishiwatari, a commissioner of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, raises opposition to the government’s plan to ease safety regulations for reactors at a meeting on Feb. 8.

February 9, 2023

A Nuclear Regulation Authority panel member objected to the government’s draft policy to lift the 40-year cap on the lifespan of nuclear reactors, forcing official approval to be delayed. 

Akira Ishiwatari, one of the five members of the NRA, said at a Feb. 8 meeting that dropping the restriction on reactors’ operation periods at 40 years, in principle, and a maximum 60 years from the nuclear reactor regulation law, is not a “change to make them safer.”

Ishiwatari, a former professor of geology at Tohoku University and head of the Geological Society of Japan, is tasked with studying plant operators’ measures to safeguard reactors from earthquakes and tsunami. He has been on the NRA since 2014.

Under the more stringent reactor regulations introduced in 2013 following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, the life of a reactor was limited to 40 years, in principle, to enhance the safety of nuclear facilities. But it can operate 20 more years, including the period when they were shut down for safety checks or court injunctions, if found safe to do so by the NRA.

The Kishida administration compiled a plan to ease the rules last month that would allow reactors to serve beyond the maximum 60-year limit by excluding the time when they were offline.

For example, the lifespan of a reactor that remained idle for 10 years would be extended to 70 years in total.

Ishiwatari noted that some reactors have been shut down for many years due to the NRA’s prolonged safety examinations for their restart.

But he expressed concern that excluding the shutdown period from the maximum 60-year rule would lead to the activation of more aged units.

With his objection, NRA Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka decided to postpone the panel’s approval of the government policy for more discussion on the issue. 

A majority of the public opposes the easing of the reactor restrictions.

At the NRA meeting, it was reported that most of the 2,016 opinions received from the public over the government plan were critical.

Still, the NRA initially planned to back the government policy to remove the cap and install a system that would require a reactor to undergo safety checks in under every decade once it reaches 30 years in service.

February 13, 2023 - Posted by | Japan | , , ,

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