Kansai Electric Power Co. said Wednesday it hopes to apply for a 20-year extension for two aging reactors that are close to the end of their 40-year approved life cycle, and plans to soon begin inspections which are a prerequisite for the move.

The No. 1 and 2 reactors at the Takahama power plant in Fukui Prefecture are 40 and 39 years old, respectively. However, they can be certified for longer life, after exhaustive safety testing for cracks and wear, if they apply to the Nuclear Regulation Authority and get approval.

New reactors are certified for only four decades, but there is a provision in the law for a one-time application to extend their life to 60 years. Kepco will carry out its own inspection and may then apply to the NRA for the extension.

“Based on the results of the inspections, we’ll decide whether to apply for an extension,” Kepco said in a statement.

Kepco president Makoto Yagi told reporters on Wednesday the company was taking measures to ensure the reactors’ safety.

The inspections are the first be to be carried out under a new safety regime that went into effect in 2012, and will set a precedent for other aging reactors. Of Fukui Prefecture’s 13 reactors, five, including four operated by Kepco, are or will soon be 40 years old.

In addition, Chugoku Electric Power Co.’s Shimane No. 1 reactor is 40 years old, while Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s Genkai No. 1 reactor is 39 years old.

How the special inspections are carried out on the Takahama reactors, and the results, are likely to affect whether the operators of those reactors, too, apply for an extension.

The special inspections will include ultrasound tests on the reactor vessels’ welds and eddy current tests on the primary coolant nozzles to identify cracks. There will also be an inspection of the reactors’ containment vessels and their concrete barriers, also for cracks. All monitoring sensors inside the reactor vessel will also checked.

Kepco has said it will seek local approval for extending the reactors’ lifetimes. Takahama Mayor Yutaka Nose has said he generally supports the restart of idled reactors if they meet safety standards, while Fukui Gov. Issei Nishikawa has traditionally supported Kepco’s nuclear operations in the prefecture.

However, even if the Takahama plants pass the special inspections, it is unclear what conditions and demands for safety guarantees Takahama and the prefecture might place on Kepco or the central government before approving a 20-year extension.

A Fukui prefectural spokesman said Kepco officials met with prefectural officials in the nuclear power division to talk about the inspection procedures. The prefecture had no official reaction Wednesday to Kepco’s announcement.

A Kepco spokesman said the inspections were expected to take several months, and that the results could be known by early spring, possibly around the time of nationwide local elections. Nishikawa is up for re-election, and the reactors’ record of 40 years of safe operation is likely to be a campaign issue.

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