On Sept. 14, the Japanese government presented to the public a new national energy strategy. This long-awaited plan included as its focal point the objective of eliminating nuclear power by the end of the 2030s. Less than a week later, however, Japan's hopes for a nuclear-free world were dashed. In the face of strong opposition from the business community, municipalities and prefectures that host nuclear reactors and fuel reprocessing plants, and from the United States, Great Britain and France, the government decided to backtrack on its initial aspirations.

The Cabinet eventually approved the new energy plan on Sept. 19, but only by dropping the core reference to the 2040 deadline in a separate document attached to override the plan. In other words, Japan has gone back to the drawing board on whether to let nuclear power stay in its energy mix.

This zigzagging on policy has left many in and outside Japan scratching their heads. Both proponents and opponents of nuclear energy are equally frustrated because neither group's concerns are being properly reflected by the government's wavering course. The worst long-term damage, however, is probably being caused by the shaken belief that Japan has a predictable future in energy.