In a “move likely to be controversial,” Japanese regulators have granted an operations extension for an aging nuclear reactor similar to the ones at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that melted down following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Reuters reports. The 40-year-old Tokai Daini reactor, which was also damaged in 2011, was approved on Wednesday for a 20-year lifetime extension—a first such extension for a boiling water reactor—despite previous promises by the government to retire reactors at 40 years. According to Reuters, the decision will help the country’s main utilities provider, Japan Atomic Power Co, which has been “bleeding cash” after the shutdown of two nuclear power plants.
About a million people live within a 20-mile radius of Tokai Daini, which is located some 60 miles from Tokyo. Local opposition has been strong, according to reports, but many are reticent to express their opinion, an Australian living in the area tells Reuters. The mayor of Naka city, which is near the reactor, has said there is no way to evacuate all the people living near the reactor, saying, “no matter how much time is spent on them, it won’t be possible to set up escape plans.” Among planned safety improvements for the reactor is a tsunami protection wall. The plant is not expected to go back online until sometime in the 2020s. (Japan had a big plan. Now it just has a lot of plutonium.)