Japan's Cabinet on Friday, April 11, approved an energy policy reversing the previous government's plans to gradually mothball nuclear power plants, a move likely to be unpopular with a wary public following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, Reuters reports.
But the plan may too little too late for the country's moribund atomic industry, which is floundering under the weight of estimated losses of almost $50 billion, forcing two utilities to ask the government for capital last week. Plant operators have had to pay out almost $90 billion on replacement fossil fuels, with local media saying they have also spent an estimated 1.6 trillion yen ($16 billion) on nuclear plant upgrades to meet new safety guidelines, according to Reuters.
A recent Reuters analysis shows as many as two-thirds of the country's 48 idled nuclear reactors may have to be left closed because of the high cost of further upgrades, local opposition or seismic risks.
"I think it is unavoidable that the Japanese utilities will write off most of their nuclear 'assets' and move on," said Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based independent energy consultant.
The plan defines nuclear as an "important baseload power source" meaning it can feed constant power to the grid to meet minimum requirements. But the policy document did not specify the amount that nuclear should make up in the nation's energy mix.
"Given the slim realistic prospects for a major nuclear share, the challenge will be flexibility and the whole baseload concept flies out of the window," Schneider said.
The government also names coal and hydro power as baseload sources.
"The plan makes clear we will reduce reliance on nuclear power through a variety of measures," industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.
Motegi said the government may decide on an ideal energy mix within two or three years.
Japan will do as much as possible to increase renewable energy supplies, Motegi said. The government has set up a ministerial level group to study boosting such energy sources.
In the plan on Friday, Japan said it would aim go beyond renewable energy targets in past plans.
A footnote in Friday's document mentioned that previous plans had set a target for renewable energy sources to contribute 13.5 percent of total power generation in 2020 and around 20 percent in 2030. Renewable energy sources, including hydropower, contributed around 10 percent of the country's energy as of 2012.