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Japan Targets Nuclear-Free Economy by 2040
September 15, 2012

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Prompted in large part by the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Plant, the Japanese government has announced plans to eliminate nuclear power from its energy program within 30 years.

The combination 9.0-magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 1, 2011, killed 15,000 people and had many ripple effects throughout the country, most notably in Fukushima, where a few of the rectors at the area's primary nuclear power plant went into meltdown, forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people (many of whom have still not returned home, more than a year later) and prompting radiation fears as far south as Tokyo. The area is nowhere near being recovered.

Japan, the world's third-largest user of nuclear power, has 50 nuclear plants throughout the island nation, most of which have remained shut since the meltdown. A few have reopened, but large protests throughout the country and elsewhere in the world have convinced the government to move urgently toward more renewable forms of energy. The plan, to be in place by 2040, calls for renewable sources of energy to make up about 30 percent of the country's power supply.

In the short term, the government led by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda will have to rely more on oil and natural gas to provide the country's electricity needs. That poses a problem for the country's objective of meeting carbon dioxide emission targets specified by the Kyoto Treaty, as well as for the country's overall budget, which must rely more heavily on importing electricity instead of relying so heavily on nuclear power generation. A significant amount of energy supplying the country's needs has been produced in nuclear plants. In the past, the absence of such production has resulted in brownouts and blackouts. Also, if the country has to import more fossil fuels to support its energy needs, then that puts an even larger strain on an economy that has suffered significantly since the twin disasters.

The plan, titled the Revolutionary Energy and Environment Strategy, will require the phase-out of nuclear reactors by closing them after they have been in action for 40 years. The plants were built mainly in the early 1970s and 1980s, although newer ones were built as late as 2006. The plan still needs approval of the government as a whole.

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