The recently compiled energy strategy aimed at phasing out nuclear power by the 2030s is likely to be revised under the next government, expected to be led by the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been critical of the push to completely abandon atomic energy despite the Fukushima No. 1 reactor meltdowns last year.
But the target date for the formation of a new medium- to long-term policy remains uncertain. In its election pledges, the LDP states that it plans to spend up to 10 years determining the best energy mix for the resource-poor country.
“The new government may prefer to take plenty of time to work out a new energy policy, saying something like ‘We will think about whether it is appropriate or not to choose a zero-nuclear path,’ ” a senior government official familiar with energy issues said.
Under the energy strategy compiled by the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan, which suffered defeat in Sunday’s election, Japan was expected to strive to reduce its reliance on nuclear power by strictly limiting the operation of reactors to 40 years and forbidding construction of new reactors.
While the LDP also acknowledges the need to reduce reliance on nuclear power, which accounted for around 26 percent of power generation in 2010, rules stipulated in the energy strategy could be watered down or withdrawn in line with a possible retraction of the zero-nuclear goal.
The LDP’s support for nuclear power has also fueled speculation that Japan could see the reactivation of more reactors that clear safety standards to be set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, an independent body launched in September.
The LDP has said it will decide whether to restart the country’s reactors within three years.
But it may not prove easy for the new government to push hard for the restart of idled reactors right away.
Antinuclear sentiment among the public remains strong following the world’s worst nuclear crisis since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.
About a year after the Fukushima crisis started, Japan experienced a period without nuclear power for the first time in decades. Reactors in operation before the accident went offline for mandatory routine maintenance and were unable to restart in the face of public concerns.
Two reactors in Oi, Fukui Prefecture, were reactivated in July after clearing provisional safety standards created by the government at the time, but the move triggered massive protests.
The government official said the new administration may first choose to watch how the NRA, established to restore shattered public confidence in nuclear regulation, will assess the safety of the reactors.
The NRA plans to work out the new safety standards for reactors by July and is also conducting field surveys at a group of nuclear plants thought to be standing atop active faults, including the Oi plant.
“I expect the new government will focus on raising the credibility of the regulator for the meantime by avoiding interfering in its activities, because a trusted regulator may help allay public concern over the safety of nuclear power generation,” the official said.