Japan to decommission nuclear reactors after 40 years

The Cabinet approved a two-bill package Tuesday primarily designed to decommission nuclear reactors after 40 years of operation and to set up a new nuclear regulatory agency under the Environment Ministry.

The new agency will be created as an external entity of the ministry and it will replace the Nuclear Industrial Safety Agency that currently handles nuclear regulation under the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry.

The government plans to submit the bills during an ordinary Diet session in the hope that April 1 will be the date when the laws go into effect and the agency is launched.

This will be the first time that the life span of nuclear power plants in Japan will be legislated.

One of the bills stipulates that the period in which a reactor can remain in operation is "40 years from the day [it] passes an inspection."

The bill allows authorities to give a one-shot extension of up to 20 years for reactors that pass the 40-year limit, as long as certain standards are passed.

The bill's initial draft said authorities "must authorize the extension," but this terminology was changed to indicate that extensions are only to be granted in exceptional circumstances.

The regulations will be enforceable within 10 months of the law coming into effect.

The name of new agency has also been changed from "nuclear safety agency" to "nuclear regulatory agency," in an effort to emphasize that the new body will act as a regulator.

A nuclear safety investigation committee, which will monitor the operation of nuclear reactors and investigate accidents in the event of a nuclear crisis, will be placed under the new agency.

The bills also include regulations requiring electricity companies to take certain measures in times of crisis.

A backfit system will be introduced to apply stricter safety standards at nuclear power plants across the nation.