TOKYO Japan's cabinet has approved a new energy plan to cut the country's reliance on nuclear power in the wake of last year's Fukushima disaster, but dropped a reference to meet a nuclear- free target by the 2030s, ministers said on Wednesday.
Since the plan was announced on Friday, Japan's powerful industry lobbies have urged the government rethink the nuclear-free commitment, arguing it could damage the economy and would mean spending more on pricey fuel imports.
Trade Minister Yukio Edano, who also oversees the energy portfolio, said the cabinet had approved the new energy plan.
"But whether we can become nuclear free by the 2030s is not something to be achieved only with a decision by policy makers. It also depends on the will of (electricity) users, technological innovation and the environment for energy internationally in the next decade or two," he said.
In abandoning atomic power, Japan aims to triple the share of renewable power to 30 percent of its energy mix by the 2030s, but will remain a top importer of oil, coal and gas for the foreseeable future.
Finance Minister Jun Azumi told a separate news conference that there needed to be flexibility in the policy to avoid putting a burden on the public in a country where nuclear supplied 30 percent of electricity before Fukushima.
All but two of Japan's nuclear 50 reactors are idled for safety checks after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 devastated the Fukushima Daiichi plant, causing the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Under the new energy plan, there should be strict implementation of a 40-year lifetime for reactors. It also said existing reactors shut after Fukushima should be restarted only if a new nuclear regulator confirms their safety and there should be no construction of new reactors.
The newly established Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) will decide whether reactors currently under construction are safe enough to start commercial operations, Edano said.
Asked if newly built reactors could run beyond the 2030s, Edano said a decision on this would be decided later.
Reactors currently under construction include the 1,373-megawatt Shimane No.3 unit of Chugoku Electric Power Co's and the 1,383-megawatt Ohma unit of Electric Power Development Co's.
(Reporting by Risa Maeda and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Ed Davies)