A file photo of Japan's Fukushima plant

Japan plans 40-year limit for nuclear reactors

Japan’s nuclear reactors will be limited to a 40-year life, allowing extensions only under stringent conditions, under new plans to be submitted to parliament.

It is part of a revision in a law on nuclear plant operations following Japan’s devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant and the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl 25 years ago

The planned legislation, which the government aims to submit in a session of parliament starting this month, would mark the first time that Japan would legally limit how long nuclear reactors would remain in operation.

The draft plan also makes its mandatory for utilities to prepare for severe nuclear accidents. Under current rules, the government has left it up to plant operators to draw up contingency plans.

With strong public opposition to building new reactors, Japan is bound to reduce its reliance on nuclear energy which before the disaster met about a third of its electricity needs. How long the existing reactors will remain in operation will affect utilities' long-term business plans and determine how rapid Japan's shift away from nuclear power will be.

Environment and Nuclear Crisis Minister Goshi Hosono said exceptions from the 40-year limit would be rare. "It will be quite hard to operate nuclear reactors beyond 40 years and we will implement stringent measures on nuclear reactor operations as safety is the first priority."

Under the current system, nuclear plant operators can file for an extension of operations after 30 years and they usually get granted a 10-year extension, if they provide required maintenance. It can be further extended and Japan's oldest existing nuclear reactor is Tsuruga No.1 reactor, operated by Japan Atomic Power, which went into service in March 1970.

Japan Atomic Power, the country's sole wholesale nuclear generator, has said it planned to operate the reactor until 2016. "We'll follow whatever changes in regulations and reflect them precisely," said Mitsuru Marutani, a Japan Atomic Power spokesman.

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