Japan is rethinking its energy diet and could announce a shift away from nuclear power as soon as next year. Scrapping nuclear would mean more renewable energy generation, but also a heavier reliance on coal.
Japan will cut its reliance on nuclear power after releasing an updated energy plan next year, the Reuters news agency reported on Friday, citing three people with knowledge of the matter.
The Japanese remain strongly opposed to nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and a shift in energy policy would reflect that widespread aversion. But it would also likely usher in a new era of dependence on coal-fired power plants.
Burning coal is less expensive than producing nuclear power, but a recent decision by Japan's environment ministry to drop its opposition to coal-fired power plants has raised questions about the industry's ability to lower its greenhouse gas emissions.
Is coal the way to go?
Japan is one of several Asian countries that are expanding their coal portfolios faster than natural gas, which is viewed as another big potential source of growth in the energy sector.
Renewables are also on the upswing, and Tokyo's decision to move away from nuclear power would definitely see it boost its reliance on renewable energy.
A target set by Japan's energy ministry that would have seen nuclear energy make up a fifth of the country's electricity was widely criticized. Another target, which foresaw nuclear accounting for 10-15 percent of electricity by 2030, was also nixed.
A shift away from nuclear energy, while publicly popular, wouldn't be without risk, according to experts.
"There is a real risk that investment in coal or fossil fuel power generation within five to 10 years will become a stranded asset, which means that they're no longer a viable investment," the head of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), Adnan Z. Amin, told Reuters. "You're seeing in more and more countries around the world a determination to move out of coal."