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Japan’s Cabinet agree to allow extending nuclear power plants’ retirement to 60 years

On February 28, 2023, the Japanese Cabinet approved a bill that allow the extension of the current working nuclear power plant’s retirement, by a maximum of 60 years with the aim to cut power admissions. The reactors will be regulated and inspected by the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) for ten years after it reaches 30-years-old.  

The decision to step back into nuclear usage sparked a heated response from the people, as Nikkei Asia reported, NRA commissioner Akira Ishiwatari has responded with strong opposition, stating that inspection for the application may require a long offline period of the power plants, allowing these plants to work even longer than 60 years in reality.

Discussion to restart stable usage of nuclear energy has brewed since August 2022 when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida ordered the government to study maximizing nuclear energy facilities’ energy production. Currently, out of 33 nuclear power reactors, only 10 reactors are approved to restart after the Fukushima Nuclear disaster, while the latest bills will allow a total of 16 more to restart by the summer of 2023.

Back in the 1970s, witnessing the detrimental impact brought by the oil crisis, the Japanese have been emphasising and replacing their fossil fuels usage with different green energy, such as constructing nuclear reactors which take part of 25% of its electricity generation by 2010.

Yet in 2011, the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster resulted from the 311 Earthquakes, drastically impacted Japanese thought on nuclear energy usage, recent figure from a survey conducted by the NRA of Japan shows that over 60% of Japanese people still oppose restarting nuclear power plants. Recovery and cleanup of the Fukushima disaster are still ongoing, annually spending about 1 trillion yen to contain nuclear damage remained from 12 years ago, uncertain of when the coast can recover completely, continue to remind the public of possible disastrous impact posted by nuclear plants accidents.

Possible justification comes from realistic energy security concerns since the start of the Ukraine-Russian War. Since the war started, the global fossil fuels supply has faltered, as the Western countries and their allies, including Japan, seek a replacement for Russian fossils in response to Russia’s war action. Worth highlighting, the Japanese had made a great effort, for example, in dropping Russia’s crude import, showing a decline of 60.2% in crude import in 2022, turning towards other suppliers, such as the UAE (United Arab Emirates), yet renewable energy are only able to take over approximate 20% of energy demand currently, showing that the Japanese still need to actively seek other energy resources.

With the experience of adapting a power conservation period last year summer, demanding citizens to turn off electronics at certain hours, the Japanese government is clear that securing its energy supply has grown to be historically important. While stepping back into nuclear energy seems to be a legitimate choice in the global environment, the Japanese will walk a tough path in balancing public opinion and domestic energy needs.  

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