-A Japanese government panel studying the country's long-term energy alternatives following the Fukushima nuclear accident has come up with four options in its final recommendations--from a total phase-out of nuclear power to maintaining a reliance on the controversial energy source for the foreseeable future.
The panel, which wound up its deliberations late Monday, is expected to submit its report to an umbrella panel soon. The panel has discussed the country's energy options since last year's accident raised doubts across the nation about Japan's long-term plan to increase dependence on nuclear power.
The four options are:
-- A complete phase-out of nuclear power while raising renewable energy sources to 35% of energy supply by 2030
-- Significantly reducing nuclear power to 15% of the total supply by 2030, while increasing renewable energy to 30%, then deciding what the future energy mix should be
-- Agreeing on a lower level of nuclear power generation capacity of about 20%-25% of total energy supply
-- Letting the free market determine what the appropriate energy mix should be
The government has said a national discussion should take place before deciding on the best course.
The panel dropped a fifth option--maintaining nuclear power at its previous level of around 35% of all output estimated for 2030--since that was seen by many panel members as not viable, given widespread opposition.
The 25-member panel cautioned that there are potentially serious consequences for the economy with some of the options. It said that under the most drastic scenerio--phasing out all nuclear power by 2030--real gross domestic product would be cut by as much as 5% compared with a full restoration of nuclear power.
All of the options mean the country would need to restart some currently idled nuclear plants while capacity is built up in areas such as renewable and conventional power.
Some panel members said there needs to be a clear focus on the costs of each option, especially that of increasing the use of more expensive renewable energy.
"We haven't discussed how much each of us must invest in promoting renewable energy, but it will be an issue," said panel member Yoshitsugu Kanemoto, an economics professor at Tokyo Kezai Unversity.
Since the No. 3 unit at the Tomari nuclear power plant on Japan's northernmost island of Hokkaido was closed May 5 for a regular inspection, no nuclear reactors have been online in the country.
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