By Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori
TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s nuclear regulator approved an extension of operations for a 40-year-old reactor near Tokyo that has the same basic design as those that melted down in the Fukushima crisis nearly eight years ago, a move that is likely to be controversial.
The reactor, Tokai Daini, is the first boiling water reactor (BWR) to be approved for a lifetime extension of 20 years. The approval will be a boost for operator, Japan Atomic Power Co, which is owned by the country’s main utilities and is bleeding cash because of the shutdown of its two nuclear power units.
Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority approved the extension at a meeting of its commissioners on Wednesday, it said.
Japan Atomic must complete safety upgrades, and a company spokesman told Reuters the nuclear operator will build a tsunami protection wall to fortify Tokai Daini. A restart of the plant is not expected till the 2020s.
Japan Atomic will also need the approval of local and prefectural authorities before it can resume operations.
Tokai Daini was operating when a massive earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, creating a tsunami that swamped Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima Daichi plant to the north, causing explosions and meltdowns at three reactors.
The Tokai Daini plant sustained damage, but shut down automatically, according to Japan Atomic.
While the extension will be a further boost for Japan’s resurgent nuclear industry, the sector will still miss a government target of providing at least a fifth of the country’s electricity by 2030, an analysis by Reuters showed last week.
Nuclear power remains an unpopular energy option in Japan and the country will reboot only a fraction of the 54 reactors it had before the 2011 disaster.
Six reactors at Fukushima Daiichi are being dismantled in a decades-long exercise that is fraught with technological challenges and hampered by radioactive waste. Operators have also decided to decommission a further 10 units across the country since Fukushima.
Nine reactors have restarted, all of them pressurized water reactors located far from Tokyo, while the stigma of Fukushima still hangs over use of the older BWR technology.
(For graphic on status of Japan’s reactor fleet, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2OTpNfA)
(Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick and Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Tom Hogue)