Workers demolish old storage tanks at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant following a disaster in 2011, which led the government improve standards that shuttered nearly all nuclear facilities in the country for more than a decade. File photo by Kimimasa Mayama/EPA-EFE
May 31 (UPI) -- The Japanese parliament has passed a bill that would extend the lifespan of nuclear power plants to more than 60 years as the country aims to cut carbon emissions and conserve energy by repurposing its nuclear resources.
The legislation, which was passed in response to a dwindling national energy supply due to Russia's war in Ukraine, would supersede five existing energy statutes, one of which governs the operation of all the nation's nuclear power facilities.
Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party joined two opposition parties to get the bill passed amid fierce opposition from members of the left and center-left wings of the Upper House, who argued that safety guarantees for the country's aging reactors didn't go far enough.
Across the country there was also growing concern the bill was passed too hastily and without sufficient debate.
Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yasutoshi Nishimura told reporters that the government would continue to engage with the public through informational sessions about the coming law.
During a parliamentary session Tuesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida attempted to tamp down emerging safety concerns as the law would likely result in nuclear facilities staying in operation well beyond current legal limits.
"I recognize that even under this new system, there is no way to achieve zero risk. It is important for both the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which is the regulatory authority, and (plant) operators to continue to work together to reduce risks to avoid another tragic accident."
Since the Fukushima nuclear disaster forced the closure of all nuclear reactors in 2011, Japan has mostly used fossil-fueled power plants to generate roughly 70% of the nation's total electricity.
Many of the shuttered reactors remain offline as they have been unable to meet tougher safety standards that were implemented following the meltdown at Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant which was triggered by an earthquake.
The new regulations limited nuclear reactors to 40 years of service, and up to 60 years if certain safety upgrades were put in place.
Last summer, Kishida said the government planned to take another look at the dormant sites to figure out how the country could repurpose their nuclear energy.
Under the new law, nuclear reactors would not have inactive years applied against their total time of service, which would substantially stretch the expected lifetime of the facilities.
Nishimura said previously that he would decide on a case-by-case basis whether any nuclear reactor could be powered up again.
Under the coming regulations, Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority will be accountable for monitoring the condition of reactors, especially those that are more than 30 years old.
The government plans to set upgrade standards for facilities before the law takes effect, while critics continued to express uncertainty about the overall safety of long-haul nuclear reactors.
The war in Ukraine cut fossil fuel imports to Japan, causing a spike in utility prices that has prompted a resurrection of the country's nuclear energy agenda.