Life ends at forty

02/02/2012
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Or does it? Is there a double standard for nuclear reactors?

TOKYO (majirox news) — In the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi disaster last March, Japan’s long-term nuclear policy has come under scrutiny. The Cabinet recently approved a proposal that reactors that have operated for over 40 years will be closed down permanently. This is what Environment Minister Goshi Hoshino told reporters on Tuesday, stating that, “there is no possibility that such reactors will be allowed to resume operations.”

However, there is a loophole in the proposed legislation, in that reactors passing certain (as yet unspecified) safety conditions may be allowed to continue operations for a further twenty years – and this is causing confusion.

This ambiguity has drawn fire from both sides of the nuclear fence. For those opposed to continuation of the use of nuclear plants as sources for Japan’s electricity, this initial announcement of “no exceptions” has been seen as a placebo to soothe public outrage. For the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which has come under heavy fire since March for what is seen by some as dereliction of duty (among other things, failing to keep records of crisis task force meetings), the 40/60 confusion is regarded as tipping public opinion against the use of nuclear energy.

However, it may be early days yet to blame the government for the lack of a coherent policy. It is less than a year since the disaster, within which period immediate crisis management has taken a front seat, and the replacement of a policy that has been built up by consensus over a period of decades has been a lower priority. The calls for a resolution of this ambiguity, backed by the recommendations to NISA by the International Atomic Energy Agency in their recent assessment of the stress tests to clarify guidance on expectations for conducting and reviewing the tests. This should help to prod the Cabinet and the civil servants overseeing the nuclear industry into producing a coherent policy for the future.

At present, only three of the 54 commercial reactors in Japan are operating (such reactors must shut down every 13 months for maintenance, and as yet, no such reactor has passed the recently introduced stress tests, allowing it to be restarted).

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