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Three years after Fukushima, Japan forges ahead with nuclear energy

Japan will keep nuclear power as an important source of energy, according to the country's latest energy plan. The move comes despite widespread public unease over the technology following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

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Japan changes course on nuclear energy

On Friday, the government of conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that atomic generation would resume once regulators had deemed the country‘s reactors safe, reversing a plan put in place by the previous administration. Japan had switched all 48 of its reactors off after the 2011 tsunami-sparked catastrophe at the Fukushima plant. Recent stress tests have found several plants remain unready to reopen.

The previous energy plan, approved in June 2010, focused on cutting CO2 emissions, increasing the use of nuclear and renewable energy to over 50 percent by 2020 and about 70 percent over the following decade.

Before the 2011 disaster, nuclear-generated electricity had made up about 30 percent of Japan's output and the government sought to raise the figure to about 50 percent by 2030.

"The government is starting over, withdrawing the energy strategy drawn up before the disaster," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. "This is where we started."

Under the new plan, Japan would reduce nuclear power to a level "as low as possible" by increasing the percentage of renewable energy, though the new policy does not give any numerical targets or dates.

'A fateful crisis'

According to polls, over half of Japan's population opposes restarting reactors. The 2011 tsunami left cooling systems swamped at the Fukushima Dai Ichi nuclear plant, sending reactors into meltdown and spewing radiation over a large area, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people.

Hisayo Takada, Greenpeace Japan's climate and energy campaigner, called the new Basic Energy Plan a gift to the energy industry. "We all know that a nuclear power plant accident can be a fateful crisis for the country," she said. "It is totally unacceptable to keep using such a ... dangerous electricity-generation method for another 20 years."

More than 18,000 people died in the tsunami-quake disaster. Though the meltdown itself did not kill anyone, three years on, more than 130,000 people remain unable to return to their homes around the Fukushima plant - a direct result of fears surrounding the radioactivity.

Only recently have a relative few people been allowed to return home to the greater area surrounding Fukushima. Following multiple setbacks, the nuclear facility remains crippled, with a cleanup operation there expected to last decades.

"We express our strong regret over the fact that the energy policy was decided as if the nation had not gone through its worst nuclear accident," the environmental group Friends of the Earth Japan announced in a statement.

The Fukushima disaster inspired nations around the world, including Germany, to rethink nuclear policy.

mkg/hc (AFP, dpa)

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