Photo/IllutrationThe Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan Atomic Power Co. on Nov. 24 filed an application with the Nuclear Regulation Authority to extend its operation of the Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture by 20 years beyond the government's 40-year limit.

The request is the first of its kind for a boiling water reactor--the same type used at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Among its four nuclear reactors, Japan Atomic Power has decided to decommission its one-reactor Tokai nuclear plant in Ibaraki Prefecture and the No. 1 reactor at the Tsuruga nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture.

With an active geological fault running directly beneath the No. 2 reactor building at the Tsuruga plant, the resumption of operations there is nowhere in sight.

Considering its Tokai No. 2 nuclear plant as a critical revenue source, Japan Atomic Power wants to secure the extension and restart the 1.1-million kilowatt reactor.

But even if the NRA approves the 20-year extension, there are several hurdles for the problem-plagued company to overcome before the reactor can be restarted.

As 960,000 people live within a 30-kilometer radius, formulating an evacuation plan is difficult. Furthermore, residents living around the plant could oppose any restart.

To bring the reactor online, Japan Atomic Power requires funds to improve safety measures such as changing existing cables to fireproof electric cables and liquefaction countermeasures for break waters, leading costs to double to around 180 billion yen ($1.6 billion) from its initial estimate of 78 billion yen.

The Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant is expected to soon be approved by the NRA as meeting new safety standards. Japan Atomic Power will also require approval for the detailed designs of the equipment and plans for running the plant past November 2018 when it will reach its 40th anniversary. The key issue is whether the NRA’s screening can be completed in time.

“The entire staff of our company will strive to work as one to be able to finish necessary procedures by the deadline,” said Yoshihiro Ishizaka, managing director of Japan Atomic Power, after submitting the application to the NRA.

The nation’s nuclear watchdog has already granted approval for extending operations of the Takahama nuclear plant’s No. 1 and No. 2 reactors, run by Kansai Electric Power Co., both of which have passed the 40-year mark, as well as the aging No. 3 reactor at the Mihama nuclear plant, all of which are in Fukui Prefecture.

The nuclear reactor regulations law was revised after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to limit a reactor’s operating period to 40 years, in principle. A stipulation saying the operating period can be extended by up to 20 years, only once, if the NRA approves, was designed as an emergency measure against a possible energy crunch.

Then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda of the Democratic Party of Japan-led government of the time said, “The extension is limited only to exceptional cases.”

However, the NRA has approved all three reactor extension request applications submitted to date.

(This article was written by Yusuke Ogawa and Masanobu Higashiyama.)