Japan looks to renewable energy following Fukushima crisis

Japan's lower house of parliament today approved legislation for subsidising renewable energy sources as the country sought to lessen its dependence on atomic energy in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Before the Fukushima accident nuclear power generated by 50-odd nuclear plants made up about 30 per cent of the country's energy needs and Japan had planned to raise that share to over 50 per cent by 2030. However, the Fukushima accident has forced a rethink of the desirability of nuclear power. 

''Japan should aim for a society that does not depend on nuclear energy,'' Japan's prime minister, Kan said at a nationally televised news conference in July. ''We should reduce our dependence in a planned and gradual way, and in the future we should aim to get by with no nuclear energy.''
 
Passage of the bill, which would go to the upper house, sets the stage for a change of guard that would see Kan leave office this month and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan choose his successor. Kan's popularity took a fall with the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster and he pledged to step down once the Diet approved his legislative agenda.

Under the legislation, utilities would have to buy electricity generated by geothermal, solar and wind sources at above-market rates in order to stimulate investment in renewable energy, which accounts for 9 per cent of Japan's power supply. Solar panel manufacturers like Kyocera Corp and geothermal plant developers including Fuji Electric Co would be expected to benefit from the subsidies, known as feed-in tariffs, according to analysts.

The prime minister last month called for phasing out of atomic power following the March earthquake and tsunami which resulted in the worst nuclear disaster in 25 years.
 
Meanwhile, for some residents evacuated from around Japan's stricken nuclear power plant it may be "a long time" before they are able to return to their homes due to projections that high radiation levels would linger, a top government official said yesterday.

The government was considering providing additional support for the evacuees, which included long-term housing rather than prefabricated temporary homes that the government was building, cabinet members said over the weekend.