TOKYO: Japan on Wednesday passed a law allowing nuclear reactors to operate beyond 60 years, as it tries to reinvigorate the sector to meet energy challenges and climate targets.
The bill intends to “establish an electricity supply system that will achieve a carbon-free society”, a parliament spokesman told AFP.
Under the new rules, the age cap technically remains 60 years but exceptions are allowed for reactors that have had to pause operations for “unforeseeable” reasons.
Those might include changes to safety guidelines, or provisional injunctions by a court.
The new rules allow operators to exclude periods of shutdown when calculating the total years of operation.
However, operators require approval from Japan’s nuclear safety watchdog for the exemption, and the law also includes measures intended to strengthen safety checks at ageing reactors.
The government wants to “ensure a stable supply of electricity while promoting the use of carbon-free electricity resources,” the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said in a statement.
Fossil fuel-fired plants generate roughly 70% of Japan’s total electricity.
The move comes as the government looks to reinvigorate a nuclear sector that was taken offline after the 2011 Fukushima disaster caused by a deadly tsunami.
Most of Japan’s nuclear reactors remain out of action today, but the global energy crisis has reopened debate on the subject and polls show that public views on nuclear power are softening.
Some lawmakers and citizens said the new bill was hastily passed without adequate deliberation, and public concerns about the safety of ageing reactors were not properly addressed.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that the government would continue holding nationwide in-person or online briefing sessions to deepen public understanding of the law.