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. Approving the new policy requires the approval of the entire Cabinet. Japanese news reports say the Cabinet has already agreed to the new policy.
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, resource-poor Japan relied on nuclear power for one-third of its energy and had planned to raise that to 50 percent by 2030.
The phase-out of nuclear power by the 2030s is to be achieved mainly by retiring aging 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 more 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.
Among the questions left open is how Japan will handle its spent nuclear fuel and avoid accumulating stockpiles of plutonium. The Fukushima disaster raised worries over nuclear safety and severely damaged public trust in the government and the nuclear industry.
Growing anti-nuclear sentiment and mass protests made it difficult for the government and plant operators to restart reactors idled 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.