The No. 3 reactor at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Mihama Nuclear Power Station is seen from a Mainichi Shimbun helicopter on Oct. 20, 2020.

February 17, 2023

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida urged his ministers Friday to assuage public concerns over the government’s planned policy shift that will allow the operation of nuclear power plants beyond the current limit of 60 years.

The instruction came after the country’s nuclear watchdog decided this week to review regulatory standards on the lifespan of nuclear reactors despite one of the five commissioners remaining opposed to the policy in a rare move.

The government plans to submit related bills to parliament during the current session. The revision will enable the operation of reactors for an extended period by excluding the time spent on inspections and other offline periods from their designed service life.

“I was instructed that the Cabinet should decide on the bills after we are ready to provide thorough explanations at the Diet to clear the public’s anxiety,” industry minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told a press conference.

Although the bills are expected to get Cabinet approval by the end of this month, Nishimura said the decision should come as soon as possible and “a certain time is needed.”

Nishimura met Kazuhiro Ikebe, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Companies, later Friday and requested safety be prioritized over maximizing the utility of nuclear power, even after the policy’s revision.

“We’d like (operators) to respond accurately to strict examinations and build a system that continuously works toward improving safety,” Nishimura told Ikebe.

On Monday, the Nuclear Regulation Authority formally approved the revision by a majority vote after Akira Ishiwatari, a commissioner in charge of earthquake and tsunami countermeasures, opposed it.

The revision “is not based on new scientific or technical findings. It cannot be said to be a shift to the safe side,” Ishiwatari said. Another member also expressed a cautious stance in making decisions too swiftly.