A Japanese cabinet panel has called for the phasing out of nuclear power over the next three decades as part of an overhaul of the country’s energy policy following the Fukushima meltdowns.
The proposed new energy policy is a major shift from Japan’s decades-long advocacy of nuclear power.
It calls for greater reliance on renewable energy, more conservation and sustainable use of fossil fuels and would see Japan joining Germany in turning its back on nuclear energy.
The new policy requires endorsement by the entire cabinet, and Japanese news reports say it has already agreed to the changes.
Japan began reviewing its energy policy following last year’s disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, which was set off by a massive earthquake and tsunami. Before the accident, the resource-poor country relied on nuclear power for a third of its energy and had planned to raise that to 50% by 2030.
The policy document says: “Based on facing the reality of this grave accident and by learning lessons from the accident, the government has decided to review the national energy strategy from scratch. One of the key pillars of the new strategy is to achieve a society that does not depend on nuclear energy as soon as possible.”
Growing anti-nuclear sentiment and mass protests made it difficult for the government and plant operators to restart reactors closed for inspections, and by early May all 50 Japanese reactors had gone offline.
Imports of oil and gas for electricity generation have surged as a result and Japan’s trade balance has swung into deficit.
Officials acknowledge many questions remain unanswered, among them how to pay for the costly expansion of renewable energy and how to minimise the environmental impact of a return to heavier use of natural gas and other fossil fuels.
The phase-out of nuclear power by the 2030s is to be achieved mainly by retiring ageing reactors and not replacing them.
The proposed new policy calls for adhering to a 40-year life span for each reactor and for building no new reactors. It leaves open the possibility of restarting reactors before they are eventually phased out, but only if they have passed strict safety tests and won approval by a newly formed regulatory commission.
“We will launch all possible policy measures to achieve a nuclear-free society by the 2030s,” it said. “Until the total phase-out we will only use nuclear reactors that are confirmed safe.”
The report was published after the head of a major investigation into the Fukushima disaster defended his report against criticism that his panel avoided blaming individuals and instead attacked elements of the nation’s culture.
Kiyoshi Kurokawa, who headed the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission, said in an interview that he was sticking with his view that the catastrophe was “made in Japan”.
The report highlighted collusion among nuclear regulators and industry that set off the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The commission is under fire for not naming individuals and for statements in the English version of the report that it did not make in the Japanese version.
The English-language version of the report blamed what it called “ingrained conventions of Japanese culture” including “reflexive obedience” and a “reluctance to question authority”.