Photo/IllutrationJapan Atomic Power Co.’s Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan Atomic Power Co. will likely apply this year for an extension to operate an aged reactor at its Ibaraki Prefecture plant beyond the 40-year limit set by the government.

The company said May 10 it will begin a special inspection to examine the deterioration of the reactor and other key equipment at the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant from the middle of this month.

The special inspection is required to operate a reactor beyond 40 years, which was the limit introduced after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

However, an operating license can be granted for up to another 20 years with the approval of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, a new watchdog set up in the wake of the Fukushima triple meltdown.

The NRA has already given the green light to the continued operation of three aged reactors in Fukui Prefecture, all run by Kansai Electric Power Co., which each have an almost 830 megawatts capacity.

Utilities operating aged reactors generating power close to 1 gigawatt seek license extensions as it makes financial sense to invest to reinforce the safety of reactors rather than switch to other forms of energy.

Japan Atomic Power’s reactor has an output capacity of 1.1 gigawatts and went into service in November 1978.

The company needs to finish the special check by the end of November to apply for the extension.

The special inspection involves examination of the reactor, containment vessel, the concrete of the building housing the reactor and other facilities for deterioration, according to the company.

After examining the results of the inspection, Japan Atomic Power, which exclusively focuses on nuclear energy, will then compile guidelines for maintenance and replacement of equipment.

The company's first Tokai plant, which was the nation’s first commercial reactor, is in the process of being decommissioned.

The company also owns the two-unit Tsuruga nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. Its No. 1 reactor there is due for decommissioning, but the company is keen to bring the No. 2 reactor online.

It remains unclear whether this will happen given an experts’ assessment that it sits on an active seismic fault.

So the company’s future basically hinges on whether it is allowed to restart the reactor at the Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant.

(This article was written by Shinji Hakotani and Masanobu Higashiyama.)