Japan's Cabinet formally adopted a policy on Friday that will allow for the operation of nuclear reactors beyond their current 60-year limit alongside the building of new units to replace aging ones as part of efforts to cut carbon emissions while ensuring adequate national energy supply.
The government's "green transformation" policy features extensive use of nuclear power along with renewable energy and marks a major policy shift for the country, which suffered a devastating nuclear disaster in 2011. The Cabinet decision follows a meeting in late December, in which the policy was agreed upon.
Bills necessary to implement the new policy were submitted to parliament Friday.
The government also plans to raise about 20 trillion yen ($152 billion) through the issuance of green transformation bonds to boost investment in decarbonization projects, as it estimates public and private investment of over 150 trillion yen will be necessary over the next 10 years.
The new policy will effectively extend the amount of time reactors can remain operational beyond 60 years by excluding time spent on inspections and other offline periods from consideration when calculating their entire service life.
Replacing old reactors with advanced ones, regarded as safer than conventional units, will be allowed only within the premises of the power stations whose units are destined for decommissioning. The government aims to begin operating next-generation reactors in the 2030s.
It also states the central government is responsible for the final disposal of high-level radioactive waste created through nuclear power generation. The issue has been a source of concern among the public and a challenge in advancing nuclear policy.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura said at a press conference after the Cabinet meeting that the government hopes to expand the area where it will conduct a first-stage survey as part of the selection process for the final disposal site.
The new policy stipulates government support for local governments which accept the survey.
The survey, which is based on documents and scientific data and includes dialogue with local representatives, has, so far, commenced only in two municipalities, both in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost prefecture.
Public sentiment turned sour over the use of nuclear power as a national source of energy following the Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011 that was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami. The government had repeatedly said it was not considering building new reactors or replacing existing ones.
But since Russia launched a major invasion of Ukraine in late February last year, a sharp rise in global energy prices has threatened the stable supply of energy for Japan, a resource-scarce country that heavily relies on fossil fuel imports, prompting officials to look into greater use of nuclear power.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed the government last summer to look into how the country can maximize the use of its nuclear energy facilities most effectively.