The Japan Times reports that the Japanese government has officially shifted its energy policy away from nuclear power with the release of an interim report saying it will reduce its reliance on this power source.

“We will create a scenario to review the current energy plan (from scratch) to reduce reliance on nuclear power,” said Prime Minister Naoto Kan.

The report stresses the need for a national debate to reconcile the gap between pro and anti-nuclear power groups.   It also addresses the real threat of power shortages by proposing energy conservation and increased competition in energy supply through the removal of  regional monopolies over both power generation and distribution of electricity.  Currently, 10 power companies monopolize their regions.

Before the March 11 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami, 30 percent of electricity was generated by nuclear power. In June 2010, the Kan Cabinet endorsed an energy plan to increase Japan’s reliance on nuclear energy to 53 percent by 2030.

The Daily Yomiuri takes up the same topic and says that in the short run the country is going to focus on energy conservation by the mass installation of smart meters into homes – next-generation natural gas and electricity meters that offer usage data in real time.  The government will also encourage community-based ideas to conserve energy.

Yet the policy runs the risk of on-going power shortages and the potential exit of manufacturing from Japan to countries with secure power supplies.

The measures are heavily dependent on cooperation from households and companies, but do not guarantee a stable supply and demand balance. Without energy to spare, the government will just continue to walk a tightrope.

“Stopping even one thermal power plant will jeopardize the balance of power supply and demand,” a senior official of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry said.

The power shortage and higher electricity prices are expected to hinder production, which will encourage the hollowing out of industry because companies will transfer production overseas.

Moving away from nuclear is expected to raise the cost of generating electricity by 3 trillion yen (US$117 billion) and could add another $200 a year to household rates.

The Institute of Energy Economics of Japan believes that failure to restart the nuclear plants will lead to a 3.6 percent drop in GDP in 2012 and increase the number of unemployed by as much as 197,000.

See our previous post, Powering Japan’s Future: An Uphill Struggle, which discusses Japan’s options in a nuclear-free environment.




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