20-year extension to be sought for aging Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant

Kyodo, JIJI

Japan Atomic Power Co. plans to file Friday an application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority seeking approval for a 20-year extension to the operational life of its aging Tokai No. 2 power station in Ibaraki Prefecture, the operator said Tuesday.

If it gains approval, the single-reactor plant, which is currently offline, will be the fourth nuclear facility in Japan to get a longer life span. In addition, it will be the first extension for a plant with a boiling-water reactor, the same type as the reactors at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

In Japan, the operational limit of nuclear reactors is set at 40 years in principle, but the period can be extended by up to 20 years if the NRA gives its approval. The Tokai No. 2 plant will reach 40 years in operation next November.

While some nuclear plant operators have decided to decommission their aging reactors, Japan Atomic Power, which has no business other than nuclear power generation, cannot afford to retire the Tokai No. 2 for financial reasons.

The firm has already decided to dismantle Tokai Nuclear Power Plant, also in Ibaraki Prefecture, as well as unit No. 1 at the Tsuruga Power Station in Fukui Prefecture. Meanwhile, active faults were recently discovered underneath unit No. 2 at the Tsuruga station, which is also offline, clouding the prospects of its restart.

“Tokai No. 2 is critically important for our management,” Japan Atomic Power President Mamoru Muramatsu said Tuesday after holding separate meetings with Kazuhiko Oigawa, the governor of Ibaraki Prefecture, and Osamu Yamada, the mayor of the Ibaraki village of Tokai, on the same day where he informed them of the application plan.

Both the governor and the mayor stopped short of commenting on the advisability of reactivating the plant.

After meeting with Muramatsu, Oigawa told reporters that the prefectural government plans to conduct its own screening, while calling on the company to give adequate explanations to the people of the prefecture.

Yamada said he has confirmed with the Japan Atomic Power president that the application will not be directly linked to the proposed restart of the plant.

The 1.1-million-kilowatt Tokai No. 2 plant went into operation in November 1978, and was stopped after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The NRA is expected to compile a report that will effectively give a green light for the resumption of the operations at the Tokai No. 2 plant, recognizing that it has met the stricter safety standards introduced after the March 2011 meltdowns.

To seek an extension of the operational period, Japan Atomic Power needs to submit a separate application to the NRA by Nov. 28, a year ahead of the 40-year limit.

With about 1 million people living within a 30-kilometer radius of the plant, however, it would not be easy for the company to gain support for the restart from related local governments, which are tasked with drawing up evacuation plans for the residents.

Raising the ¥174 billion needed for safety measures for the plant is another major challenge for the company.