Sunday, 22 May 2011

Nuclear plants on hold in Japan

13 May 2011, Page: 7

JAPAN is to abandon plans to expand its nuclear power industry and make renewables a key part of its energy policy, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said two months after the tsunami disaster. As efforts continued to stabilise the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Mr Kan said he would "start from scratch" the policy, which envisaged nuclear power providing more than 50% of Japan's energy by 2030

Japan, who's 54 nuclear reactors provide 30% of its electricity, had planned to build at least 14 new reactors over the next 20 years, but policymakers accept that this will be impossible in light of the Fukushima crisis. Mr Kan said that renewables, which make up 20% of overall supply, would have a bigger role in meeting energy needs. "I think it is necessary to move in the direction of promoting natural energy and renewable energy such as wind, solar and biomass", he said.

The stronger commitment to renewables marks Mr Kan's second sudden shift on nuclear power in a week following his order to close the Hamaoka atomic plant, which sits on an active fault line, while a new tsunami wall is built. Facing low approval ratings and criticism of his handling of the nuclear crisis from his party, the prime minister's public commitment to nuclear power has weakened in recent days.

His announcement came as the first of tens of thousands of nuclear evacuees were allowed to return home for two hours to collect clothes and personal items. About 80,000 people within 20 kilometres of the Fukushima No. 1 plant were forced out of their homes by the accident and have yet to be told when they will be able to return. The plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power, has promised to stabilise radiation levels and achieve safe "cold shutdown" of the nuclear plant's damaged reactors within nine months.