Japan's ruling party wants 20 percent nuclear power in energy mix: media

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s ruling party wants a revived nuclear power sector to eventually make up a fifth of electricity generation, local media said, a controversial move for a public opposed to nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.

A panel of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party approved a proposal in a closed-door session on Thursday that would boost stable “baseload” energy supplies - nuclear, coal, hydroelectric and geothermal - to about 60 percent by 2030 from 40 percent now, according to reports in several major media outlets.

This can only be achieved, the Asahi newspaper said, by getting nuclear back up to 20 percent of the energy mix, given the difficulty of burning more goal amid a global push to cut greenhouse gases or wringing more hydro power out of Japan’s heavily dammed rivers.

The LDP will present the proposal as early as next week to Abe, the Asahi said. Abe’s government supports reviving nuclear power, but must walk a delicate line as it deliberates the best energy mix for the world’s third-biggest economy.

Some members of a panel under the industry ministry floated a ratio of 15 to 20 percent for nuclear power discussions that began in January.

All of Japan’s reactors are offline as utilities strive to meet tougher standards imposed after the worst nuclear accident in a quarter century.

Two nuclear plants have cleared the main safety hurdles for restarts, but a wholesale return to nuclear reliance would run into big political and operational difficulties.

Opinion polls regularly show most Japanese people want to phase out nuclear power, which supplied about 29 percent of the country’s power before the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The issue is also politically divisive. Abe’s coalition partner Komeito wants atomic energy gradually phased out, and the Asahi said some LDP members expressed opposition to the plan in Thursday’s meeting.

Logistically, too, reviving nuclear to 20 percent is problematic. The Asahi said that it would require either building more reactors or extending the working life of the oldest reactors - something the new regulator has said would be very difficult.

A Reuters analysis last year showed that 14 reactors will probably restart at some point, 17 are uncertain and 17 will probably never be switched back on, implying nuclear energy would eventually make up less than 10 percent of Japan’s power supply.

Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by William Mallard and Ed Davies