In a reversal, Chugoku Electric Power Co. President Tomohide Karita stated Thursday that retiring a 40-year-old reactor at the Shimane Nuclear Power Station is "an option."

It is rare to hear a top utility official suggest the decommissioning of an aging reactor.

In June, Karita hinted that the utility would consider getting approval to extend the operating period for unit 1, one of two reactors at its sole nuclear power station. He said at that time that he had no plans to retire it.

Some residents in Shimane have been calling for taking the reactor out of service permanently. With many other communities expressing strong concern about the safety of the nation's aging reactors, Karita's remark could impact the thinking of executives at other utilities around the country.

"Continuing operation beyond 40 years would require investment to deal with a variety of equipment issues," Karita told a press conference, apparently bearing in mind the tougher safety measures demanded under new regulatory standards set up after the Fukushima crisis.

He suggested that the cost of extending the reactor's lifespan and other factors would come into play in determining whether to reboot it. "There is an option of decommissioning it," he said.

Unit 1 has a capacity of 460,000 kilowatts and went online in 1974. It will reach its 40 year in operation on Saturday, the age at which most reactors need extensive retooling. The reactor has been offline since March 2010 after it was disclosed that several devices at the unit were not inspected sufficiently during regular checkups.

The plant has another reactor, unit 2, that can generate 820,000 kw. It has been running since 1989 and was recently taken offline for a scheduled checkup.

A third reactor with a 1.37 million-kw capacity is under construction with no date set for starting operations, according to the company's website.