Energy policy will retain reactors but ease nuclear dependency

by Mari Yamaguchi

AP

The Abe administration on Tuesday unveiled the first new plan for national energy policy since the Fukushima crisis started close to three years ago, saying nuclear power remains an important source of electricity for Japan.

The plan presented to the Cabinet for approval, which is expected in March, says nuclear energy dependency will be reduced as much as possible, but that reactors meeting new safety standards set after the 2011 nuclear crisis should be restarted.

All 48 commercial reactors have been offline for safety inspections in light of the catastrophe at Fukushima No. 1.

The draft of the Basic Energy Plan says that a mix of nuclear, renewables and fossil fuel will be the most reliable and stable source of electricity to meet Japan’s energy needs. It does not specify the exact mix, citing uncertain factors such as the number of reactor restarts and the pace of renewable energy development.

The government had planned to release the draft in January, but a recommendation submitted by an expert panel was judged to be too pro-nuclear. Tuesday’s version apparently added slightly more emphasis on renewable energy and flexibility to nuclear fuel cycles.

Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi, in charge of compiling the plan, told reporters that “in principle, the direction (toward less nuclear reliance) has not changed.”

He called on additional efforts to accelerate the development of renewable energy over the next few years.

The plan says the government will continue its nuclear fuel recycling policy for now despite uncertainty at key facilities for the program.

It adds that there is a need for “flexibility” for possible changes to the recycling policy down the road.

Japan has tons of spent fuel and a stockpile of extracted plutonium, causing international concerns about nuclear proliferation. Officials have said the most realistic way to consume and reduce the plutonium is to restart the reactors to burn it.

The previous energy plan compiled in 2010 called for a boost in nuclear power to about half of Japan’s electricity needs by 2030 from about one-third just before the Fukushima disaster struck.