Japan to shed nuclear power

Tsunami disaster spawned wide support for new policy

The Japanese government announced a dramatic turn in its energy policy Friday, vowing to make the densely populated island nation nuclear-free by the 2030s.

Last year’s tsunami-triggered disaster at the Fukushima nuclear power complex forced evacuation of more than 160,000 and contaminated huge swaths of territory north of Tokyo. Before the accident, nuclear plants provided nearly a third of Japan’s power generation, and the government had planned to increase that proportion to more than half.

In unveiling the new policy, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda acknowledged that the vast majority of Japanese support the zero option on nuclear power. The new blueprint calls for investing almost $500 billion in the next two decades to expand renewable sources like wind and solar power, the NHK broadcast network reported.

The energy plan sets forward a three-pronged approach to phasing out nuclear power generation after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that inundated the Fukushima plant and set off the worst nuclear accident since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986 in Ukraine.

A 40-year limit has been set on operation of existing plants, construction of new nuclear-generation facilities is prohibited and any further restarts of Japan’s 48 idled nuclear plants will be contingent on their meeting strengthened safety standards to be adopted by a newly created independent regulatory agency.

Japan’s anti-nuclear movement swelled after the Fukushima disaster. Opposition to nuclear power became more vocal this summer when the government authorized the restart of two plants in Ohi, serving the populous areas around Kyoto and Osaka. A nationwide shutdown after the Fukushima accident put all 50 remaining nuclear plants offline pending safety improvements and inspections.

Public opinion polls have indicated that more than 70 percent of Japanese support ending nuclear energy production in Japan, and public hearings in recent months were dominated by voices against resuming nuclear production.

Business leaders opposed a change in policy. The Federation of Electric Power Companies deemed the phase-out decision “very regrettable,” warning that it will raise energy prices for business and consumers and, at least in the near future, increase greenhouse gas emissions as the country relies more on fossil fuels until renewables can be expanded.

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