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Proposal to operate nuclear power plants for more than 60 years “cannot be considered a change to the safe side”; Regulatory Commission postpones formal decision due to unusual opposition

February 9, 2023
At its regular meeting on February 8, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission discussed whether to make a formal decision on a new regulatory system for nuclear power plants to operate beyond 60 years, but it decided not to do so due to opposition from Akira Ishiwata, who stated that the proposal “cannot be considered an alteration to the safe side. The matter will be discussed again at the regular meeting next week. It is extremely unusual for the regulatory commission to be divided on such an important matter. (Kenta Onozawa)

◆Public comments: Most oppose the review

The new draft regulation will review the deterioration status of nuclear power plants every 10 years or less, starting 30 years after the start of operation, and if the plant complies with the regulatory standards, the extension of operation will be approved. The proposal was unanimously approved at the regular meeting held last December. On the day of the meeting, the final draft was discussed based on the results of public comments received from the public.
 The majority of the 2016 comments received from the public were against the review of the system, but the secretariat of the Regulatory Commission consulted with the regular meeting on whether to make a formal decision on the draft without changing the content of the draft regulation. Of the five committee members, four, including Chairman Shinsuke Yamanaka, voted in favor of the draft, while Commissioner Ishiwata expressed his opposition. Chairman Yamanaka stated that he would not make a decision by majority vote, but would discuss the matter again together with the proposed amendment to the article of the Nuclear Reactor Regulation Law (Reactor Regulation Law) that stipulates the operation period.
 At a press conference following the regular meeting, Chairman Yamanaka said, “I think there is a misunderstanding (among Commissioner Ishiwata). I don’t think it is a problem that there are opposing opinions. I would like to deepen the discussion among the committee members.
 Last December, the government decided to allow nuclear power plants to operate for more than 60 years by excluding from the number of years of operation the period during which the plants were shut down for restart examinations and judicial decisions. It aims to submit a draft amendment to related laws to the current Diet session. The current provisions in the Reactor Regulation Law regarding the period of operation, which is “40 years in principle, with a maximum of 60 years,” are expected to be deleted and redefined in the Electricity Business Law under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI).

◆”Aging nuclear power plants will be operated in the future,” said Akira Ishiwata, a member of the committee.

I am against this proposal. Akira Ishiwatari, a member of the committee, stated his opposition in a firm tone toward the end of the meeting.
This change is not based on new scientific findings. It is not a change for the sake of safety, because the law will drop the period of operation. There is no need for us to amend the law voluntarily.
 A geological expert, he has served as a professor at Tohoku University and as a member of the committee since 2014. When it was discovered that geological data had been rewritten during the review of the Tsuruga No. 2 reactor at the Japan Atomic Power Company’s Tsuruga Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture, he proposed that the review be suspended. When the secretariat of the Regulatory Commission proposed last November that the Commission hear opinions from electric power companies on the proposed new regulations, he opposed the proposal, saying that it was too early to make a decision. Discussions were postponed.
 Under the new government policy, the period of shutdown due to the review will be excluded from the number of years of operation. In most cases, the 10 units currently under review have been delayed due to inadequate explanations from the power companies. Commissioner Ishiwata, who is in charge of the examination of earthquake and tsunami countermeasures, said, “We are not unnecessarily prolonging the examination, but unfortunately it is taking a long time. The longer the review takes, the longer the operation period will be, and the older (aged) nuclear power plants will be in operation in the future.
 He expressed strong concern that the more difficult the review process becomes, the more likely it is to encourage the operation of aging nuclear power plants. At the meeting, Chairman Yamanaka explained that “this is a mechanism to ensure that regulations can be implemented no matter what the operating period is like,” but Commissioner Ishiwata did not back down, saying, “My thoughts are as I have stated.


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

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