OHI, Japan — All but two of Japan’s 54 commercial reactors have gone offline since the nuclear disaster a year ago, after the earthquake and tsunami, and it is not clear when they can be restarted. With the last operating reactor scheduled to be idled as soon as next month, Japan — once one of the world’s leaders in atomic energy — will have at least temporarily shut down an industry that once generated a third of its electricity.
With few alternatives, the prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, has called for restarting the plants as soon as possible, saying he supports a gradual phase-out of nuclear power over several decades. Yet, fearing public opposition, he has said he will not restart the reactors without the approval of local community leaders.
Japan has so far succeeded in avoiding shortages, thanks in part to a drastic conservation program that has involved turning off air-conditioning in the summer and office lights during the day. It has also increased generation from conventional plants that use more expensive natural gas and other fossil fuels in a nation already uneasy about its reliance on foreign sources of energy.
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