Japan's new prime minister sees nuclear power providing smooth transition to nuclear-free future, with LNG imports growing until renewable power capacity meets energy needs; first step will be restarting nuclear reactors after safety checks

LOS ANGELES , September 2, 2011 () – Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s new prime minister, has a softer stance on nuclear power than his predecessor, seeing it as a necessary means to transition Japan to other clean-energy sources in the future, reported Reuters on Sept. 1.

Until Japan can more away from nuclear power entirely, it would be more feasible to use it to meet the country’s energy needs in the interim, says Noda.

Noda wants to restart nuclear power plants that have been idled for inspections, after they are deemed safe; but he acknowledges it is unlikely that new reactors will be built because of public resistance after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Nuclear power should be part of Japan’s energy mix during the decades it will take before renewable energy capacity can be expanded to meet the country’s energy requirements, said Noda, Reuters reported.

A former finance minister, Noda is concerned about the cost of a total nuclear shutdown, which would add nearly US$40 billion annually in additional fuel costs, according to trade ministry calculations.

Japan will continue to import liquid natural gas (LNG), as well. LNG is likely to replace 86% of the nuclear power that was idled this year and 65% next year, according to estimates from Societe Generale. The estimate by analysts is two-thirds, reported Reuters.

In 2011, Japan’s LNG demand is forecast to increase by 12.2% to 78.6 million tonnes and reach 81.6 million tonnes in 2012, according to a Reuters poll.

Japan’s former prime minister did not set a policy for restarting the nuclear power plants that are being shut down for routine maintenance, one by one. By April or May of next year, all of Japan’s 54 reactors could be offline.

Just 12 reactors, with 10,430 megawatts (MW) of capacity, or 21.3% of Japan’s nuclear power generation, remained online as of Thursday, Reuters reported.

Pre-crisis, Japan generated 240,000 MW of power. About 6,000 MW of installed capacity comes from wind and solar, and the government aims to boost that to 30,000 MW in a decade.

Before the plants can be restarted, Noda’s administration needs to specify the nature of the tests and receive regulatory and local government approvals. The tests could be completed by the end of this year, reported Reuters.

The primary source of this article is Reuters, London, England, on Sept. 1, 2011.

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