The utility operating the sole reactor at the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture on Friday filed for state approval to extend the unit’s operation beyond the government-mandated 40-year limit.
It is the fourth time that an application has been filed with the Nuclear Regulation Authority to extend the operation of an aging reactor for an additional 20 years, but the latest request is the first for a boiling water reactor — the same type as at the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex.
The application for the Tokai plant, currently offline, comes despite local governments lacking emergency plans to evacuate around 960,000 people living within 30 km of the plant. Of all the nuclear power plants in Japan, Tokai has the most densely populated surrounding area.
Tougher safety rules introduced in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, triggered by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, in principle prohibit the operation of nuclear reactors beyond 40 years. But extending a unit’s life for an additional 20 years is possible if operators carry out safety upgrades and pass the regulator’s screening.
It is unclear whether the operator, Japan Atomic Power Co., which is jointly owned by nine of the country’s utility companies, can secure an estimated ¥180 billion in costs to implement measures to enhance the safety of the aging reactor, with its business struggling after all its reactors ceased operations.
The Tokai No. 2 plant, sitting on the Pacific coast, is currently having its safety features assessed by the Nuclear Regulation Authority for a reactivation.
So far, three pressurized water reactors belonging to Kansai Electric Power Co. have gained the authority’s approval to extend their operations for 20 years.
The Tokai No. 2 plant, which started commercial operations in 1978, will be decommissioned if it cannot gain the authority’s approval for safety measures and extension by November next year.
But even if the authority approves the resumption and extension of the plant, the actual reactivation will happen later than March 2021, which would be the earliest that work on implementing safety measures will likely be completed.
Japan Atomic Power filed for the extension after its president, Mamoru Muramatsu, told Ibaraki Gov. Kazuhiko Oigawa of the utility’s intention to seek it in a meeting Tuesday.