Japan ‘still committed’ to nuclear power

JAPANESE officials said they were committed to nuclear power despite calls from the prime minister for a plant to close.

However, the officials admitted that the target of obtaining half of Japan’s electricity from nuclear power by 2030 needed a rethink.

Prime minister Naoto Kan called for the closure of a nuclear plant in central Japan, citing the risk of another disastrous quake after the Fukushima Daiichi plant, in the north-east of the country, was destroyed by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Nearly 26,000 people were killed or are still missing in the region and the plant is still leaking radiation.

The call to shut down the Hamaoka plant signalled a potential shift in energy policy. While the government says other plants will be unaffected, it could embolden anti-nuclear movements.

Thousands of protesters marched through central Tokyo on Saturday to welcome the prime minister’s call and urged him to push for further closures.

Deputy chief cabinet secretary Yoshito Sengoku said Japan would remain committed to nuclear power, while trade minister Banri Kaieda, who oversees energy policy, said Japan’s target must be reviewed. “With regard to energy policy... we will have to rethink this,” Kaieda said, adding that more efforts should go into renewable energy.

Chubu Electric Power Co is leaning toward closing the plant as requested and could make the decision at a board meeting today. However, the company will only close the plant after it finds ways to supply power in a stable fashion. Two of the plant’s three working reactors are in operation.

Last year, Japan vowed to boost electricity generation through nuclear power to 50% by 2030 from the current 30% by building at least 14 new reactors.

Government experts put the chance of a magnitude 8.0 quake hitting the Hamaoka area in the next 30 years at 87%, which raises questions over why it was built there in the first place.

Of 54 reactors in commercial use in Japan, 32 are under planned or unplanned maintenance and operators may face resistance to restarting them.


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