It appears that, for the first time, nuclear power stations commissioned more than 40 years ago will be restarted. Tatsuji Sugimoto, the governor of the central Japan prefecture of Fukui, has agreed to reactivate the Kansai Electric Power Co.'s (KEPCO) Takahama Nuclear Power Station Unit 1 and 2, and Mihama Nuclear Power Station Unit 3.
In the aftermath of the nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) in March 2011, nuclear power stations have been limited to an operational period of "40 years in principal."
If the Nuclear Regulation Authority approves an exceptional case, the period can be extended a maximum of 20 years. In this case, these provisions have been applied.
Of concern is that the 40-year rule is being compromised using claims of decarbonization.
The Japanese government has set itself a target of achieving effectively zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2050. As part of this, it reportedly aims to reduce emissions by 46% from fiscal 2013 levels by fiscal 2030.
Speaking to Gov. Sugimoto, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshi Kajiyama said in order to achieve their targets, "We will continue to utilize nuclear power into the future."
According to the government's basic energy plan, in fiscal 2030 nuclear power will be responsible for some 20% of electrical supply in Japan. For this to happen, around 30 reactors need to be in operation.
If this is to be realized, nearly 10 reactors with over 40 years of service will have to go into extended operations. But it cannot be forgotten that the 40-year rule came from the lessons of the Fukushima disaster, and was made with a view to improving safety measures. Extensions must ultimately be treated as exceptional measures.
To achieve a carbon-free society, efforts should be committed to renewable energy sources including solar and wind, and there ought to be established an energy strategy that does not rely on nuclear power.
Many harmful effects come with nuclear dependency.
Spent nuclear fuel from the country's reactors continues to pile up. Policies to establish a nuclear fuel cycle have, for all intents and purposes, met a dead end.
If these three reactors in Fukui Prefecture are restarted, then the waste they produce will exceed currently available storage capacity in five to nine years. The Fukui Prefectural Government has lobbied KEPCO to secure storage facilities outside the prefecture, but it's not known when this could be achieved.
The region's residents have also strongly voiced their concerns about evacuation plans in the event of a nuclear disaster, among other issues, and it wasn't easy for the state to obtain the green light from local authorities.
The national government has presented Fukui Prefecture with support measures including a maximum subsidy of 2.5 billion yen ($228.6 million) per nuclear plant still operating 40 years or more after coming into service. It appears the government intends to build up successes restarting reactors dating back 40 or more years, and gradually spread the practice across the country.
But there is a deeply felt distrust of nuclear energy; it has already been involved in terrible accidents. The people of Japan will not be able to agree to easily turn back to nuclear power dependence.