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Japan's government allows nuclear reactors to operate beyond 60 years

The Japanese Cabinet has approved a new green transformation policy, including measures to be implemented in the next ten years and that should help decarbonise the country by 2050. The new policy paves the way for the construction of new advanced nuclear reactors in areas without any nuclear power plants to replace ageing ones as of the 2030s. It also allows the operation of nuclear reactors beyond their current 60-year limit, by excluding time spent on inspection and other offline periods from consideration when calculating their total service life: a reactor shut down for 10 years due to regulatory inspections or court injunctions against operations would then be allowed to operate until 70 years. The central government would be responsible for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste. Bills necessary to implement the new policy have just been submitted to the Parliament.

Under current rules introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, the operating life of a nuclear reactor is 40 years, in principle. However, reactors and their vessels that pass the degradation inspections of the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) can operate for an additional 20 years. The extension is allowed only once, so reactors at 60 years old must be decommissioned.

Japan’s reliance on nuclear power was reduced following the Fukushima accident, dropping from 25% of the power mix in 2010 to 1% in 2015, and back to 6.7% in 2021. Before the accident, there were 54 reactors spread over 17 power plants (49 GW in 2010 against 33 GW in 2021).

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