Japan to Review ‘Nuclear-Free by 2030s’ Goal, Minister Says

Japan’s government plans to establish a variety of sources for electricity generation within ten years, including a review of the plan to exit nuclear power set by the previous administration, Trade Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said.

“We will make our decisions based on technological findings and not with prejudgment,” Motegi said today at a news conference in Tokyo. “We can’t say for sure that Japan will be free of nuclear power by the 2030s.”

The comments from Motegi, who oversees the energy industry as head of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, signals a shift in nuclear policy since the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power and a new Cabinet was introduced Dec. 26. The previous administration of the Democratic Party of Japan planned to phase out nuclear power by the end of the 2030s in line with public demands.

All but two of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors remain offline for safety checks following the Fukushima nuclear disaster on March 11 last year. In August, a series of town hall forums showed a majority of the public wanted nuclear power phased out and tens of thousands of people came onto Tokyo streets demanding the plants stay shut. The country began an incentive program on July 1 to encourage investments in renewable energy.

The new government will also review the previous administration’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020, Motegi said. The LDP aims to prepare a master plan for its energy policy by the summer of 2013, Motegi said in separate interview.

Clean Energy

“We will introduce clean energy and promote energy saving as much as possible, but it is inevitable to rely on thermal power for the time being,” he said. Thermal power plants burn coal, oil and natural gas that produce carbon emissions cited as a cause of climate change.

Japan needs to set a new emission target before UN climate talks scheduled to take place in November 2013, Nobuteru Ishihara, the new Minister of the Environment, said in a group media interview today.

The government will await new safety standards governing nuclear plants before deciding whether to restart idled reactors, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s new prime minister, said Dec. 26. Japan’s new nuclear regulator has said it will announce the rules in July and Abe indicated some reactors may restart during the next three years if they meet the tougher safety standards.

“The Nuclear Regulation Authority will set strict rules for nuclear power,” Abe said in his first press conference. “We will start deciding whether or not to restart reactors during the three-year period.”

Nuclear Buddhists?

Abe’s plan has already run afoul of Shunichi Tanaka, the NRA chairman. The Asahi newspaper reported today that Tanaka said it was impossible to assess all reactors within 3 years because of the time needed in the screening process, citing an interview with the NRA head.

On the day before he was elected prime minister, Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party signed an agreement with coalition partner the Buddhist-backed New Komeito Party on key policy issues.

“We will reduce our dependence on nuclear as much as possible by accelerating the use of energy saving and renewable energy and promoting highly efficient thermal plants and other measures,” the parties said in a statement at the time.

That marked a shift in Komeito’s earlier position that it had mapped out in campaign pledges.

“We aim for zero nuclear as soon as possible,” the party said in the pledge on Nov. 17, adding that Japan should not build any more nuclear reactors.

‘Economic Competitiveness’

At his first news conference, Abe hinted nuclear reactors may need to resume operations to ensure a stable power supply to ensure businesses don’t move offshore.

“An immediate issue to consider is how to respond to power demand,” the prime minister said. “We need to think about the economic competitiveness of our country because there is danger of hollowing out in manufacturing.”

Tetsunari Iida, who helped design a plan to phase out nuclear power for the Tomorrow Party of Japan, said it won’t take long before the government embraces atomic energy again. Reactors will restart and new ones will be built, said Iida, who is executive director of the Tokyo-based Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies.

“Things are going back to the way they were before March 11.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Chisaki Watanabe in Tokyo at cwatanabe5@bloomberg.net; Yuji Okada in Tokyo at yokada6@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reed Landberg at landberg@bloomberg.net

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