Why Japan Brought a 44-Year-Old Nuclear Power Plant Back to Life

It’s the oldest nuclear unit to resume operations in Japan since Fukushima’s nuclear meltdown.
Why Japan Brought a 44-Year-Old Nuclear Power Plant Back to Life
A nuclear power plant (background) at Mihama, 220 miles west of Tokyo, in 2004. Photo: TORU YAMANAKA / AFP

Japan has restarted a 44-year-old nuclear reactor, the oldest nuclear unit to resume operations in the country since the  Fukushima disaster, to help meet its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

Most nuclear reactors in Japan were shut down after an earthquake and tsunami caused a meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011. 

But the No. 3 unit of the Mihama plant in Fukui Prefecture was restarted on Wednesday after securing special approval from authorities to have its lifetime extended beyond the usual 40 years.


In order to achieve zero net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, Shin Hosaka, an official at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), has said it’s “essential” for nuclear plants to operate longer than 40 years, according to Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun

The Mihama reactor, operated by Kansai Electric Power, had been offline for almost a decade. It met requirements for a reboot in 2016, and is now among 10 of Japan’s 33 operable nuclear units that are in service, according to METI.

Nuclear plants operating past the average age of 40 are not unheard of. The oldest operating nuclear reactor in the United States is 51 years old and is located in New York. The oldest operating plant in the world, the Beznau plant in Switzerland, turns 52 this September.

In restarting the 44-year-old Mihama plant, Kansai Electric said it would “proceed carefully” and conduct comprehensive inspections, the company said in a press release on Wednesday.

In a plan released in 2015, METI said 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s energy should come from nuclear power by 2030.

In 2019, with only a third of operable plants in use, nuclear energy accounted for about 6 percent of the nation’s energy supply.

The operator of the 44-year-old plant, Kansai Electric Power, heavily relies on nuclear energy and supplies power to about one-sixth of Japan’s population. Before the Fukushima disaster, half of Kansai’s power supply came from atomic energy. 


But restarting the nuclear plant has been met with some public opposition. 

A citizens group filed a lawsuit with the Osaka District Court on June 17, believing resuming an old nuclear unit is unsafe, according to Japanese broadcaster NHK

But the Mihama No. 3 plant may have to suspend operations in about four months, as Kansai Electric said it was unlikely to meet an Oct. 25 deadline to implement counterterrorism measures.

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