Intelligent Energy

Japan: Nuclear no, renewables yes. China?

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Japan takes another step away from nuclear, but the global debate rages. China, supposedly stalling its nuclear program, has connected a fast neutron reactor to the grid.

Japan took another big step away from a nuclear power future, as its Cabinet approved a five-year science and technology plan that de-emphasizes next generation nuclear technologies – meant to be safe – in favor of renewables.

As the Mainichi Daily News notes, the Cabinet measure supports the position of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has advocated against nuclear following the March earthquake and tsunami that led to a meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

The five-year plan runs through March, 2016. The Cabinet was to have originally approved it last March, but postponed action until the Council for Science and Technology Policy could revise their draft recommendations following the disaster.

As a result, references to promoting research and development on fast-breeder reactor fuel cycle, including the Monju prototype, and the next-generation light-water nuclear reactor for practical use, were omitted,” the paper reports.

Fast breeders and next-generation light-water reactors are two technologies that the nuclear industry say can improve safety and effectiveness. Monju is a troubled fast breeder test reactor in Japan.

While the Cabinet was in action, other wheels of Japanese government were also spinning. Bloomberg reports that, “Japan’s lower house of parliament is set to pass legislation to subsidize renewable energy amid a push to reduce dependence on nuclear power.” The subsidies include feed-in tariffs requiring utilities to buy electricity generated from solar, wind and geothermal sources.

Kan is expected to resign after the bill passes, as it would complete legislative goals he set before fulfilling a pledge to step down, Bloomberg notes.

Even though Japan and other countries like Germany and Italy are walking away from nuclear, many people believe the technology has a bright future.

In contrast to the sentiment in Japan, China last month connected a small test fast neutron reactor – similar to a fast breeder – to the grid.

Although China temporarily suspended approval for new nuclear plants following Fukushima, some industry observers believe it will construct as many as 100 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years. Given that the world has about 440 reactors today, that would spell decent growth for the nuclear industry.

Photo: Chinaenergysector.com

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure