ENVIRONMENT | Staff Reporter, Japan

Japan struggles to wean itself from nuclear power

The road to a nuclear energy-free Japan is bound to get tougher.

In one of the boldest anti-nuclear statements yet by a ranking government official, Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano said Japan should strive to totally phase out nuclear power.

He hesitated, however, to call for its outright ban in the face of strong opposition from the nuclear power industry and its allies.

"The government's policy is now to reduce reliance on nuclear power as low as possible," Edano said.

He noted that nuclear energy should account for less than the third of national electricity generated by Japan in the future.

"I myself think it should be reduced as soon as possible. But as to in reality how quickly it can be reduced or whether it will ultimately be reduced to zero - I want to judge based on discussion by experts."

The government is developing a new energy mix in light of the Fukushima disaster of March 2010. Japanese experts, however, are divided over nuclear energy’s share in future electricity generation.

That percentage ranges from zero to 35%. In 2010, a government plan called for boosting that to more than 50%.

Currently, all except one of Japan’s 54 reactors are offline. Most are inactive because of scheduled maintenance operations. None of the plants, however, can be restarted until each clears a safety review and receives approval from local governments.

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