Japan Commits to Eliminating Nuclear Power

So the rumors we reported on yesterday are true: The Japanese government's just-released energy policy does indeed call for the complete phase-out of nuclear power. However, the timeline is somewhat longer than many expected, with the policy saying that nuclear generation will be eliminated by the end of the 2030s, instead of at the beginning of that decade. The 20-page policy paper also lacks specific details about how the government will achieve its target.

The announcement comes 18 months after an earthquake and tsunami triggered a nuclear crisis at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The plant, which experienced a triple-core meltdown, will take about 40 years to decommission, and the contaminated towns in the surrounding area will be uninhabitable for decades.

While the new official energy policy calls for eventually eliminating nuclear power, it also says that existing nuclear reactors should be reopened once nuclear regulators certify that they're safe. It calls for a maximum lifespan of 40 years for existing plants and no new construction. However, doubts remain over whether the government will be able to put its policy into action. Even as the Japanese business community expresses concerns that phasing out nuclear will lead to hikes in the price of electricity, many regional authorities remain opposed to the restart of their local reactors, and anti-nuclear protests have been going on for months in Tokyo.

The new energy policy also calls for a wider use of renewable energy sources, like solar and wind, which Japan has been slow to adopt. The government aims to increase the use of renewable energy from the current figure of 10 percent (which includes hydroelectric power) to 30 percent of Japan's total energy mix by 2030.

Another hot topic that the policy addresses is nuclear fuel reprocessing. Japan has been building a reprocessing plant in Aomori Prefecture, but the project is long-delayed and far over-budget. The new energy policy calls for the continued operation of this reprocessing plant, arguing that Japan needs to recycle used fuel to prevent the proliferation of dangerous nuclear materials.

It's also clear that the government responded to the wishes of the Aomori authorities, which has insisted that the government fulfill its commitments and continue to operate the plant. The prefectural authorities has also said that if the plant is shut down, it will send all the spent fuel its storing back to the nuclear power stations from which it came.

Photo: Toru Yamanaka/AFP/Getty Images

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