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Asia

Japan plans nuclear phase-out by 2040

Japan has said it plans to phase out nuclear power over three decades. The decision marks a major change in policy triggered by last year's Fukushima disaster.

"The government will introduce every possible policy resource that would enable nuclear power generation to be at zero during the 2030s," a government paper released on Friday said.

"Many Japanese hope to build a society that does not rely on nuclear power generation," the paper went on. "On the other hand, it is also clear that opinions are divided over how soon or exactly how such a society can be achieved."

The government announced the policy after a meeting of key ministers.

The decision to move away from nuclear power brings Japan into line with countries such as Germany and Switzerland. Germany wants to abandon nuclear energy as early as 2022 and Switzerland by 2034.

Growing anti-nuclear sentiment

A demonstrator holds a No more Fukushima sign during a rally, protesting against restarting the Ohi nuclear power plant's reactors in front of the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo, Saturday, June 16, 2012.(Foto:Itsuo Inouye/AP/dapd)

Japan's anti-nuclear movement has grown rapidly since Fukushima

It comes amid regular protests in Japan by thousands of people calling for a nuclear-free Japan in the wake of the atomic disaster at the country's Fukushima Daiichi plant caused by an earthquake and resultant tsunami in March last year.

The disaster was the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl in 1986.

Before the Fukushima accident, one third of energy in Japan was generated by its 50 nuclear reactors, and plans were in place to raise this proportion to 50 percent by 2030.

All but two of the reactors have now been idled for safety checks, but the government still plans to allow  more units to restart if they are deemed safe by a new atomic regulator - somethinig that is bound to be opposed by Japan's growing anti-nuclear movement.

Economic fallout?

Japanese business lobbiests argue that exiting nuclear power in favor of fossil fuels and renewable sources will harm the Japanese economy by raising electricity prices. Japan is now heavily dependent on Middle East oil and has been forced to increase imports to make up the energy shortfall since the Fukushima accident.

Handout photo shows smoke billowing from the No. 3 reactor of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in Fukushima Prefecture on March 21, 2011. Photo supplied by Tokyo Electric Power Co./Kyodo/MaxPPP

The disaster at Fukushima also sparked Germany's shift from nuclear power

Anti-nuclear groups claim, however, that the shift in policy will create new commercial openings in the area of renewable energy and thus boost the economy.

The issuing of the policy goal of abandoning nuclear power is not binding on any future government, so a new administration could reverse the plan.

tj/jlw (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)