Kepco inspects aging Takahama reactors for chance at 20-year extension


Kansai Electric Power Co. on Monday began checking the safety of two aging nuclear reactors in Fukui Prefecture that are nearing the end of their certified lives to see if it can keep them going for another two decades.

The reactors are the No. 1 and No. 2 units at the Takahama nuclear plant.

Safety requirements adopted after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis include a provision requiring operators to shut and dismantle reactors when they are 40 years old. But the nuclear regulator may grant a one-time extension of up to 20 years if utilities carry out thorough checks on their safety systems and the integrity of the containment vessel.

Seven of Japan’s 48 nuclear reactors are either 40 years old or close to it. Kepco was the first utility to declare it would try to keep old reactors in action after the Fukushima meltdowns, while the government has sought to have old units shut.

Kepco has judged that keeping the two reactors going would help to repair a balance sheet saddled with costly fossil fuel imports, despite the hefty price tag for equipment upgrades and new investment in safety.

All of the nation’s reactors remain offline pending safety checks.

Kepco, which serves Osaka and surrounding areas, will examine a range of factors such as the state of the welding of the reactor pressure vessels — which contain the nuclear fuel.

But the company will then need to apply for Nuclear Regulation Authority safety screening based on the new regulations and obtain approval before the units can come back online.

Kepco aims to have its checks complete and to ask for NRA screening as early as next spring.

Takahama’s No. 1 unit turned 40 last month and the younger No. 2 unit is due to hit the barrier in November next year.

The pro-nuclear government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has urged utilities to decide quickly on whether to scrap their aging reactors, apparently in an attempt to ease concerns over the safety of nuclear power by promoting the shutdown of old facilities and bringing newer reactors back online.