The Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday officially abandoned the zero-nuclear goal of the previous administration by adopting a new basic energy policy that pledges to push for restarting the reactors idled in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima meltdowns.
The new Basic Energy Plan, revised about every three years, is a clear departure from the zero-nuclear policy set by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government, which pledged to abolish all nuclear power plants by the 2030s.
The new plan, which sets policies for the next 20 years, described nuclear power as one of the key “base-load electricity sources,” a term the government uses to describe types that can stably generate power at a low cost 24 hours a day.
The government will “promote reactivation of nuclear reactors” if they clear the new safety tests laid out by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, the 78-page policy paper states. Those tests are based on standards established by the NRA after the Fukushima meltdowns.
The NRA is conducting tests on reactors 1 and 2 of the Sendai Nuclear Power Plant in Satsuma Sendai in Kagoshima Prefecture, and they might become the first to restart since the Fukushima crisis began, possibly in August or later.
The new policy also says the government will “lower as much as possible” Japan’s dependency on nuclear power and push for the development of more renewable energies, including wind, geothermal heat and solar power, in particular over the next three years.
The paper, however, avoided setting a specific goal for a desirable ratio of energy sources for Japan, including oil, gas, nuclear power and renewable energy.
At a news conference Friday, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi said he would like to set such a goal “as soon as possible” and that “it won’t take two or three years,” ministry officials said.
At a daily news briefing, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “For the next three years, we will make (development) of renewable energy a top priority. Then we will draw up a plan for the best mix.”
But overall, the Basic Energy Plan focuses mainly on Japan’s need to secure stable sources, including nuclear, despite the public’s clear anti-nuclear sentiment.
While many Japanese are opposed to reactivating atomic power plants, anti-nuclear parties and candidates have performed poorly in recent major elections, including the 2012 Lower House election, the 2013 Upper House poll and the 2014 Tokyo gubernatorial race.
This has given momentum to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has pledged to restart reactors once they clear the NRA’s new safety standards.
Abe has made the economy his priority and is also pushing to export Japanese nuclear technologies abroad.
The cost of imported fuel has increased by ¥3.6 trillion a year from the pre-Fukushima crisis level. This has posed a major macroeconomic problem for Japan, the new energy policy paper states.
The paper particularly emphasizes Japan’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels imported from the Middle East, arguing “securing stable energy is indispensable for national security.”
“(Japan’s) dependency on fossil fuels has increased to about 90 percent from the pre-(Fukushima) disaster level of 60 percent as far as electricity is concerned,” the paper states.
All 48 of Japan’s commercial nuclear reactors are still shut down.