July 30 (Bloomberg) -- Japan’s government pledged to reduce the country’s reliance on nuclear power after a public backlash and hold a national discussion on gradually shifting to alternate sources to avoid shortages and higher prices.
“We’ve decided to reduce nuclear dependence and make a road map toward that goal,” Prime Minister Naoto Kan said in a televised press conference late yesterday in Tokyo. “As the government, we’ll reduce reliance on nuclear energy in a planned, step-by-step manner to achieve a society that doesn’t depend on nuclear energy.”
Japan will move away from atomic power in three stages, the first being the next three years, then by 2020 and 2050, Kan said earlier in the day. Officials aim for 80 percent of electricity demand to be assessed by smart meters within five years, according to a government statement.
Kan is trying to address mounting rejection of nuclear power following the worst atomic accident in 25 years while continuing to satisfy the country’s energy needs. Japan could only meet 90 percent of electricity demand next summer without its 54 nuclear reactors and costs could rise by about 20 percent, or 3 trillion yen ($38.9 billion) annually, National Strategy Minister Koichiro Gemba said yesterday.
“In the medium to long term, we’ll reduce dependence on nuclear power and strengthen and accelerate green innovation,” Gemba said. “We’ll consider how to realize the best mixture of new energy.”
The government will present options to diversify away from atomic power by the end of the year, Gemba said. The new energy strategy will consider how to separate power generation and distribution and encourage “various operators” to enter the electricity market, Kan said.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled Tokyo Electric’s Dai-Ichi plant in Fukushima and triggered the worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl, displacing about 50,000 households after radiation leaked. More than 70 percent of respondents in a Kyodo News survey published July 25 said they support phasing out the energy source.
The same poll showed Kan’s approval rating falling to 17.1 percent, down from 23.2 percent in June, and 66.9 percent said the prime minister should resign by the end of August. The poll of 1,014 people conducted July 23-24 didn’t provide a margin of error.
Japan’s government said earlier this week it would spend about 10 trillion yen in a third disaster recovery package to be put together after Kan fulfills a pledge to resign. The government plans to spend 19 trillion yen over the next five years to rebuild, Kan said yesterday.
Japan’s effort to win backing for funds to rebuild from the disasters has been hampered by calls for Kan to step down, with opposition as well as some Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers demanding he resign over his inadequate response.
Parliament this week approved a 2 trillion yen rebuilding package, the first of three legislative goals Kan says must be achieved before he stands down. The others are passage of a renewable energy bill and authorization to sell 44.3 trillion yen in government bonds needed to fund this year’s record budget. The Diet session is due to end at the end of next month.
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