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Replace aging reactors?

 October 24, 2013


Gov't mulls replacing aging nuclear reactors with new ones



The government has begun mulling replacing aging reactors at nuclear power plants with news ones in a move to continue Japan's dependence on nuclear power.

The government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) started considering the replacement plan on Oct. 23 as part of the country's medium- and long-term nuclear energy policy. The government is eyeing to include the project in its basic energy plan to be compiled by the end of the year.

As the administration led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is poised to reactivate idled reactors that have cleared regulatory standards, it aims to clarify its policy to maintain a certain amount of nuclear power generation in the future.

However, as the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster is hardly under control following the recent spate of radiation-contaminated water leaks and other problems, the move to push forward Japan's dependence on nuclear power is expected to draw fire.

There are also proposals to have the basic energy plan refer to the best energy mix to define nuclear power as the country's key power source. The government is also considering including in the basic plan additional construction of reactors on the premises of existing nuclear plants, while some have expressed reservations about the move on the grounds that it has low feasibility.

The government is set to avoid including in the basic plan the new construction of nuclear plants as "there is no prospect of obtaining residents' understanding in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster," according to a senior LDP official.

Prime Minister Abe has stated that while the ratio of nuclear power generation will be lowered, the reactivation of idled reactors will "be decided based on the world's toughest safety standards."

That being said, Japan is expected to have no reactors online in 2049 if it does not replace or additionally construct reactors under the 40-year service life rule, with many reactors already being offline for regular inspections or other reasons.

In an attempt to dodge public criticism, some in the government and the LDP insist underlining a plan to replace reactors with new ones that are safer and more capable by utilizing existing nuclear plants rather than newly building such facilities. In consideration of the public's distrust in nuclear energy, however, the ratio of nuclear power generation in the future will not be specified in the basic plan.

Riding on the wave of the Abe administration's growth strategy, many in the government, the LDP and economic circles advocate that certain nuclear plants are necessary for Japan to keep its economy afloat.

A legislators' group for promoting a stable supply of electricity, comprising pro-nuclear energy members of the LDP, is set to submit its proposals for the government's basic energy plan in early December. "We must consider replacing or additionally building reactors," said a senior official of the group in a move to spur the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, which is tasked with mapping out the basic plan.

In order to maintain nuclear power stations, however, there remain outstanding issues such as the absence of a final disposal site for radioactive waste. Prime Minister Abe is poised to make a final decision on the country's energy policy by taking into account the prospects for reactor restarts and trends in public opinion.


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