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Japan’s new government signals it could rethink nuclear-free future

TOKYO — 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 Friday.

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

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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 of last year. In August, a series of town hall forums showed that a majority of the public wanted nuclear power phased out and tens of thousands of people protested in Tokyo to demand that 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 Liberal Democratic Party aims to prepare a master plan for its energy policy by the summer of 2013, Motegi said in separate interview.

“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 Friday.

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.”

Abe’s plan has already run afoul of Shunichi Tanaka, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

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