National

Utilities pressed to make quick decision on scrapping aged reactors

Kyodo

The government called on Friday for utilities to swiftly decide whether to scrap aging reactors that would be particularly vulnerable in the event of a natural disaster.

The pro-nuclear government, which is seeking to reactivate the nation’s idled reactors as soon as possible despite a glut of solar and other renewable energy that is being boycotted by the utilities, is pushing the them to decide quickly in the hope that shutting old facilities will help mitigate public concern so restarts can proceed.

Under new, tighter safety standards adopted because of the 2011 core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, utilities are not allowed to operate reactors for longer than 40 years, in principle.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority can grant one-time extensions of up to 20 years, but that would require power companies to spend massive amounts to upgrade equipment and bolster plant safety.

At a meeting with Makoto Yagi, head of the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, trade and industry minister Yuko Obuchi said the government wants power companies to decide on the issue “at an early date.”

Of the 48 commercial reactors in Japan — all of which are awaiting beefed-up safety tests due to the Fukushima disaster — seven are around 40 years old, just like the poorly protected Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Operators face a July deadline for asking the Nuclear Regulation Authority for special checks if they want to continue running the reactors.

Yagi, also president of Kansai Electric Power Co., told reporters after the meeting with Obuchi that scrapping the reactors earlier than planned under the previous regulations could weigh on utilities’ earnings, adding that government support for smooth decommissioning is necessary to make a decision.