TOKYO — The government of Shinzo Abe took its biggest step yet toward reviving its shuttered nuclear energy program on Tuesday, announcing details of a national plan that designates atomic power as an important long-term electricity source.
The new plan, which states Japan will push to restart reactors closed in the wake of the Fukushima disaster and suggests it might build new ones, overturns a promise made by a previous government to phase out the country’s atomic power plants. It also marks a major vote of confidence for nuclear energy at a time when its worldwide prospects have been clouded by the multiple meltdowns at Fukushima three years ago.
Japan’s minister for trade and industry, Toshimitsu Motegi, sought to play down the country’s policy reversal, telling reporters that Japan remained committed to “reducing its reliance on nuclear power.” But he also criticized the earlier commitment by Japan to go nuclear-free, first made by former Prime Minister Naoto Kan in the months after the 2011 accident, calling such a policy “irresponsible” for a resource-poor nation.
To ease public jitters, an independent regulatory agency has been evaluating whether Japan’s 50 remaining reactors, which are all currently closed, can safely be brought back online. Even with a regulatory go-ahead, however, local opposition could still block or delay reactor restarts.
Those fears were underscored Tuesday after another mishap at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, where a complicated cleanup has been undermined by continued radiation leaks and errors. The plant’s operator, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, said a damaged power cable had shut down a vital cooling system, forcing workers to suspend the removal of delicate spent nuclear fuel rods from a wrecked storage pool.
The cooling system for the spent fuel pool at Reactor No. 4 failed for about four hours on Tuesday before power was restored, the operator said in an emailed announcement. Tokyo Electric Power said that the pool temperature was stable and that it had not detected a rise in radiation levels at the plant.
Mr. Kan, the former prime minister who led the country’s response to the Fukushima crisis, blasted the government’s nuclear turn.
“This government has not learned the lessons of Fukushima,” he said by telephone. “Japan was on the brink. But now, we want to go back to nuclear for economic reasons. But what happens to the economy if another disaster hits?”
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