TOKYO — The Japanese government announced Friday that it will phase out nuclear power — a decision likely to raise energy prices in the long term, but also one that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan hopes will prove popular enough to keep them in power.
Japan will restart existing reactors deemed safe by regulators and retire them all by the 2030s, according to a 22-page policy paper released Friday afternoon.
The strategy calls for spending on renewable and recyclable energy, as well as added conservation efforts, to make up for the absence of nuclear power, which provided 30 percent of Japan’s energy prior to last year’s Fukushima Dai-ichi partial nuclear meltdown.
“We can certainly achieve this goal if we have Japan’s unwavering resolve,” the report stated.
The government had been considering plans to merely reduce its reliance on nuclear power during the next 20 years, but Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s summer declaration that the nation “could not function” for long without nuclear power failed to convince Japanese citizens.
Recent polls that showed a majority favored abandoning nuclear power entirely swayed Noda and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, which is facing an expected parliamentary election within months.
The nation has imported massive quantities of natural gas and other fossil fuels since the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The nuclear policy shift could mean added costs for the U.S. military and some military personnel living off-base.
Earlier this month, a Japanese government panel estimated that average household utility costs would grow to 32,443 yen ($411 at current rates) per month by 2030 — nearly double the 2010 rate — if Japan abandoned nuclear power by 2030. Tokyo Electric Power Co. — owner of the destroyed Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant — began hiking residential power prices this month by an average of 8.47 percent. Company president Naomi Hirose told reporters in July that government officials had rejected the company’s request to raise rates even higher.
Most military personnel living off-base receive a U.S. government-subsidized stipend for utilities. American base employees hired locally generally pay for utilities out of pocket.
The U.S. pays about 28 percent of utility costs at its bases in Japan, a share that has steadily increased since 1999. Japan can renegotiate its share of costs in a new agreement beginning October 2015.
It remains to be seen whether the policy shift will be enough to convince voters to re-elect the government. If they are defeated by the Liberal Democratic Party in the coming months, Japan’s nuclear policy could change again.
The government’s announcement is already taking criticism from both sides of the nuclear debate.
Masako Sawai, a spokeswoman for the anti-nuclear Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center, said the new policy ignores the wishes of Japan’s majority to end all nuclear power use immediately.
“It shows no signs of understanding what the accident on March 11 was about, and what [the government] has learned from it,” Sawai told Stars and Stripes on Friday.
Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, told reporters Thursday that he called Noda to tell him that ending nuclear power would cause unacceptable hardships for businesses.
“I’d like him to stop any further anti-business policies,” Yonekura said, noting that Japan’s strong yen and sluggish growth was already making it tougher to preserve jobs.
Before the 2011 earthquake, Japan had planned to increase its 30 percent share of energy coming from atomic power to 50 percent. The Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster led Japan to shut down its 50 remaining reactors, pending safety reviews.
Only two of Japan’s reactors have since restarted.
Government and independent investigations concluded that poor decisions by government and industry officials made the Fukushima disaster far worse than it had to be, which further galvanized anti-nuclear sentiment.