Japan Plans Weak Goodbye to Nuclear Power

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In the wake of last year's disastrous Fukushima meltdown, Japan announced Saturday a plan to eliminate their reliance on nuclear power over the next 30 years. But the plan has some loopholes that could see reactors live on past the current deadline. 

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government announced a plan that will, ideally, eliminate the country's reliance on nuclear energy by some time in the 2030s. Before Fukushima, Japan relied on nuclear power for 30 percent of its energy, with plans to increase that reliance to as much as 50 percent. To replace the hole left by nuclear power, Japan plans to increase its use of renewable energy to cover 30 percent of its emissions, while still relying on traditional sources like oil and coal for the bulk of its energy consumption. The new policy puts a 40 year lifespan on all existing nuclear reactors, which is how the 2030s deadline was reached. 

But, as the New York Times points out, the 40 year deadline isn't a hard and fast rule: 

In announcing the energy plan, Motohisa Furukawa, the minister of state for national policy, said there was no change to the government’s quest to restart those reactors. And although the long-term plan stipulates that no new reactors will be built, it leaves open the possibility that seven reactors at varying stages of construction could be activated... 

And although the government said reactors would be closed after life spans of 40 years, it also said that exemptions could be granted, suggesting that the 2040 deadline was flexible.

A reporter asked Furukawa if the exemptions meant some reactors could be opened well into the end of this century if they received the appropriate approval. Furukawa confirmed his suspicions. Critics have lobbied for an immediate shutdown of all nuclear reactors, but the Times puts the economic cost of a sweeping shutdown at $55.9 billion. Four of the major energy companies would be forced to dissolve. The extended deadline gives the country's current reactors, which are mostly all offline awaiting safety checks, sufficient time to live out their lifespan, and energy companies sufficient time to figure out what to do next. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.