The Tokai No. 2 nuclear power plant in Ibaraki Prefecture passed tougher safety standards, but Japan Atomic Power Co. still faces a looming deadline to keep its aging plant in service.

The plant, located about 120 kilometers from the heart of Tokyo, will reach the government’s operational limit of 40 years on Nov. 27.

If Japan Atomic Power cannot obtain the additional approval needed from the Nuclear Regulation Authority by that date, the plant will be forced to decommission its only reactor.

“We want to pull ourselves together and tackle this issue,” said Nobutaka Wachi, executive vice president of Japan Atomic Power.

At a general meeting on Sept. 26, the five commissioners of the NRA, the nation’s nuclear watchdog, unanimously agreed that safety measures submitted by the Tokai plant passed stricter safety standards that were introduced after the triple meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the Fukushima nuclear disaster and led the government to shut down all reactors in Japan.

The Tokai No. 2 plant is the first nuclear plant damaged by the tsunami to pass the NRA’s safety screening. Its boiling-water reactor is the third such unit to be approved for a restart, following the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at TEPCO’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture.

The reactors that melted down at the Fukushima plant were also boiling-water units.

So far, the NRA has approved a resumption of operations of 15 reactors at eight nuclear plants.

However, Japan Atomic Power must also receive NRA approval of detailed plans to implement the safety measures against possible disasters, such as the building of breakwaters. Construction work is scheduled to be completed in March 2021.

Moreover, Japan Atomic Power needs NRA approval to extend the Tokai No. 2 plant’s operational life by 20 years beyond the 40-year limit.

After it has completed all construction work related to an extension of the operational life, the company needs the consent of the prefectural government, the village of Tokai and five surrounding municipalities to restart the reactor.

The NRA is in the final phase of screening the company’s applications for the extension as well as its detailed construction plans.

But Japan Atomic Power is behind schedule in submitting the necessary documents for the extension to the nuclear watchdog.

“I think (Japan Atomic Power) will turn in the documents just barely in time, but it hangs precariously in the balance right now,” said an NRA official in charge of screenings.

(This article was written by Yusuke Ogawa and Toshio Kawada.)