Japanese regulators on Monday approved an additional 20 years of operation for two ageing nuclear reactors, in the first such decision under updated regulations following the nation’s worst nuclear disaster at Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority decided to allow Kansai Electric Power to continue to run reactors 1 and 2 at the Takahama plant Station on the Sea of Japan coast, which are both more than 40 years old.
The two reactors have been idle since regular maintenance in 2011.
The updated regulations set the maximum length of operation for reactors at 40 years in principle, but also stipulate that their life span can be extended for another 20 years with NRA approval.
Monday’s decision comes a week after a former NRA official warned that earthquake risks may have been underestimated in the screening process of Japan's reactors, especially those in the western part of the country, where the Takahama plant is located.
The ex-official and seismologist Kunihiko Shimazaki urged the NRA to review the way they assessed quake hazard, Kyodo News agency reported.
“The NRA is going doing everything it can to ignore the earthquake risks to nuclear plants in Japan, from Fukushima in 2011 to the seismic events in Kyushu in April,” said Kendra Ulrich, a Greenpeace Japan official, referring to the twin quakes in Kumamoto prefecture that killed 49 people.
“Given the known seismic risks to reactors in Wakasa Bay, including the Takahama nuclear plant, the NRA is showing itself to be incapable and unwilling to protect the people of Japan,” Ulrich said.
Globally, the mean age for nuclear reactor shutdown is 24.7 years, the environmental group said.
Kansai Electric reactivated the other two units - reactors 3 and 4 - at the Takahama plant earlier this year, but a court ordered the operator in March to suspend the two units due to safety problems.
On Friday, the Otsu District Court in Shiga prefecture decided to keep its ban on the operation of the two reactors by rejecting the operator's request to suspend the injunction.
Only two of Japan’s 43 units are online amid lingering public fears of nuclear power in the earthquake-prone country following the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant in March 2011, caused by a magnitude-9 quake and resulting tsunami.
Last year, Japan restarted two reactors for the first time in nearly two years when Kyushu Electric Power resumed their operations at the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in southern Japan.