When Japan’s government last week suddenly announced that it would phase out its nuclear power plants by 2040, it probably thought it would be scoring some popularity points with its population where public opinion has been strong in opposing the continued use of nuclear power since the Fukushima Daiichi disaster. But, the policy announcement clearly caught a lot of people—inside and outside the country—by surprise. Perhaps the two groups most caught off guard were Japan’s industrial sector and the communities where the nuclear power plants are located.
Thus, it isn’t totally surprising that government officials are attempting to “walk back” the policy and recast the phase-out as a general “target” rather than a specific goal.
Reuters reports, “Since the plan was announced on Friday, Japan’s powerful industry lobbies have urged the government rethink the nuclear-free commitment, arguing it could damage the economy and would mean spending more on pricey fuel imports.” The news agency goes on to say that although the Japanese Cabinet approved a new policy that would move the country to less reliance on nuclear power, a specific date for closing all reactors was omitted.
As with most reactors, the ones in Japan were designed for a 40-year lifespan. The approved policy calls for operators to adhere to that lifespan, however the same policy also permits the designed life to be exceeded if regulators certify a reactor’s safety.
There still will be a ban on new reactors, but it is not clear what the fate will be of the two reactors currently under construction
The government is also hoping that a newly launched, more credible regulatory agency will ease public concerns.