The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday postponed a decision on whether to approve decommissioning plans for five old reactors, raising questions about whether deadlines for scrapping the units can be met.

The NRA is expected to eventually green-light the decommissioning plans, but will for now continue discussions with four operators for plants in Saga, Shimane, and Fukui prefectures.

It is unclear how long it will take until final approval is granted.

“The decommissioning plans dealing with spent fuel and waste disposal submitted by the operators are meeting the safety regulations. But the operators need to show they can scrupulously carry out safety management because the size of the problem is such that it cannot be taken care of in a simple manner,” NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka told reporters after the meeting.

Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama No. 1 and 2 reactors, in Mihama, Fukui Prefecture, Japan Atomic Power Co’s Tsuruga No. 1 reactor, Chugoku Electric’s Shimane No. 1 reactor, and Kyushu Electric’s Genkai No. 1 reactor were all built more than 40 years ago.

Kepco’s plans for both Mihama reactors called for a four-stage decommissioning process beginning this year and finishing within the 2045 fiscal year. Japan Atomic Power Co. intends to scrap Tsuruga No. 1 by 2039 once work begins.

Kyushu Electric’s schedule for Genkai No. 1 proposes a 2043 finish after the plan obtains approval. Chugoku Electric expects to complete decommissioning of Shimane No. 1 by 2046.

Kepco estimates it will cost ¥32.3 billion to decommission Mihama No. 1 and ¥35.7 billion to scrap Mihama No. 2.

Japan Atomic Power Co. says it will cost ¥36.3 billion to decommission its Tsuruga No. 1 reactor. Scrapping Kyushu Electric’s Genkai No. 1 will cost an estimated ¥36.4 billion, while Chugoku Electric’s bill for decommissioning Shimane No. 1 is ¥38.2 billion.

Current cash reserves plus expected cash flow in coming years will be able to cover estimated costs, all of the operators say.

However, there are lingering concerns that initial estimates may prove to be too low, which means the burden could fall on local consumers of the electricity to cover additional costs.

Another related concern is the matter of where the nuclear waste could go. Spent fuel and other waste from decommissioned reactors would have to be housed up to 50 years before it is removed for final disposal.

However, efforts to build such mid-term storage facilities have stalled, as the central government is hard-pressed to find towns and villages willing to host nuclear waste repositories.

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