TOKYO Japan began deliberating its 2030 targets for power generation on Friday, a process likely to turn contentious when nuclear restarts are considered even as the much delayed cleanup at Fukushima continues four years after the meltdowns there.
A ratio of between 15 to 20 percent for nuclear power was floated as a starting point by some members of a panel set up under the country's industry ministry, compared to about 29 percent in the year before the Fukushima disaster, the worst release of nuclear radiation since Chernobyl in 1986.
The government has declared nuclear power to be an important baseload source for electricity but getting an agreement on how much it contributes will be hard. Public opinion remains consistently opposed to restarting the nation's reactors, even after massive increases in power tariffs.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe supports the atomic industry and wants to restart units that have been certified as safe by a beefed up regulator, although he also says he wants to reduce reliance on the energy source as much as possible.
Manufacturers and the nuclear industry say reactors are needed to cut energy costs.
Issei Nishikawa, the governor of Fukui prefecture where more than a dozen reactors are located, said he wants the government to take a clear stance on nuclear power.
"Stating whether nuclear power is necessary and important would help decide the energy mix, and without this (commitment), it is difficult to deal with (restarts)," he said.
In a previous framework policy agreed in 2010, Japan was aiming to increase nuclear power to more than 50 percent of its energy by 2030. Anywhere near that level is unlikely with the cleanup at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant expected to take decades and faced with constant delays.
"There is a mountain of issues, including contaminated water, decommissioning, compensation and contamination," Abe said in parliament on Friday in response to a question from a member of the opposition.
"When I think of the victims still living in difficult evacuation conditions I don't think we can use the word 'settled'," to describe the Fukushima plant," he said.
The government needs to set the power mix by early June when a Group of Seven meeting is scheduled, Hiroya Masuda, an advisor at Nomura Research Institute and a member of the panel said.
Climate change is likely to be discussed at the G7 meeting, and Japan would need to have clear energy mix goals to discuss its carbon emissions targets.
Two nuclear plants have received safety clearance from the nuclear regulator, but there is no clear timetable on when they will restart.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Mari Saito; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Tom Hogue)