* Government sees 10 pct power shortage, 20 pct cost spike
if all reactors halted
* Government to seek reactor restarts once safety confirmed
* Share of nuclear power to fall, but public debate needed
on nuclear-free option
* Utility implicates regulator in attempt to manipulate
* Kan says nuclear regulator's existence questions
(Adds trade minister comments, details)
By Shinichi Saoshiro and Yoko Kubota
TOKYO , July 29 Japan will strive to avoid a
complete shutdown of its 54 nuclear reactors and avert crippling
power shortages in the near term while charting plans to reduce
the nation's dependence on nuclear power, the government said on
Heightened safety fears since the March 11 earthquake and
tsunami triggered meltdowns and radiation leaks at the Fukushima
power plants may hinder restarting of reactors shut for
maintenance and leave Japan with no nuclear power by May 2012.
The government faces an uphill battle in winning over an
increasingly sceptical public and it suffered a fresh setback on
Friday when one of the power utilities revealed the state-run
nuclear power regulator tried to manipulate the outcome of a
citizen debate on nuclear power four years ago.
"If the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, which as a
part of the government is in charge of nuclear safety, has done
something that contradicts or is against the government, then
this is a problem that would question its existence," Prime
Minister Naoto Kan told a news conference.
Kan surprised the public and his own cabinet
ministers earlier this month by saying that the world's worst
nuclear crisis since 1986 in Chernobyl convinced him that Japan
should wean itself off nuclear energy.
A recent poll showed about 70 percent of Japanese voters
endorsed that vision.
The government, in its energy policy review, said delaying
the restart would lead to a 10 percent power shortage next
summer and a 20 percent spike in electricity costs.
It also said Japan would become less dependent on nuclear
energy -- a reversal of a 2010 policy that sought to boost
nuclear generation as a cheaper and cleaner alternative to
fossil fuels. But it stopped short of endorsing Kan's vision of
"The final shape of nuclear power will be determined through
public debate, including whether there will be no more (atomic
plants)," Koichiro Gemba, the national strategy minister charged
with reviewing Japan's energy policy, told a news conference.
Japan's government, and the nuclear watchdog, have come
under intense criticism for the accident at the Fukushima
nuclear plant, and Kan has said he would resign though he did
not specify exactly when.
Revelations by Chubu Electric Power Co
that the nuclear watchdog asked it in 2007 to recruit residents
to speak in favour of a certain type of nuclear power at a
public forum are likely to stoke more anger against the
regulator and intensify public calls for Japan to go
On Friday, another power company apologised for
enticing its employees to participate in a 2006 forum on nuclear
power, at the request of the trade ministry. Earlier this month,
Kyushu Electric Power Co admitted that a senior
official asked employees of its affiliates to send email
messages in favour of nuclear power.
Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said an independent
investigation would be launched into both firms.
In August, the government is expected to announce a plan to
set up an independent nuclear regulatory agency, and Gemba said
breaking up regional utilities was also an measure being
considered to make the nuclear sector more transparent.
Kan had said that Japan would consider separating power
generation from distribution, making it easier for new players,
such as renewable energy producers to enter the market.
(Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Tomasz
Janowski and Miral Fahmy)