Japan's unfolding nuclear crisis will deal a blow not only to the government's energy strategy that stresses nuclear power but also its push for sales of power plant projects abroad.
The government in its basic energy program calls for the promotion of nuclear power generation as a stable, economically efficient and low-carbon energy source.
It has also been helping private-sector efforts to sell nuclear power technology abroad as part of its growth strategy focusing on infrastructure exports.
The foundations for all those programs were rattled when the magnitude-9 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on Friday crippled a nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, raising concerns about a reactor core meltdown.
The disaster hit after Japan got Vietnam's nod last October on becoming a "partner" in building two nuclear power reactors in the Southeast Asian country.
The current crisis will likely have a major impact on Japan's nuclear power business due to its lost credibility over nuclear safety.
When Turkey's energy minister, Taner Yildiz, visited Japan last December to inspect a nuclear power plant, then industry minister Akihiro Ohata emphasized Japan's safety technology.
"The safety and quake-resistance of our country's nuclear power plants can contribute to the introduction of nuclear power plants in Turkey, which is prone to earthquakes," Ohata told Yildiz.
Japan also hopes to win contracts in such countries as Malaysia, India, Kazakhstan, Kuwait and Jordan in competition with South Korea, Russia, France and other countries.
Most of the countries to which Japan hopes to sell nuclear power technology are emerging or developing economies that plan to build nuclear power plants for the first time.
They are seeking help as a package--construction of the plants, operation, safety measures and worker training.
A loss of trust in Japan's nuclear energy technology is expected to stall its sales efforts.
Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd., electric machinery makers that built the reactors at the quake-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, are cooperating with Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant's operator, in efforts to bring the damaged reactors under control.
On Sunday, Toshiba President Norio Sasaki, summoned to the prime minister's office, pledged to "do all we can" to deal with the situation.
The continuing crisis in Fukushima Prefecture could also put a damper on the global market, which has been expected to grow due to increasing demand in China and other countries.
Japan's trade white paper for 2010 forecast that by 2030 the installed capacity of nuclear power plants will double, and the market will expand to reach 11 trillion yen ($135 billion) a year.
At home, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry will be forced to drastically review its energy policy as the people's trust in nuclear power safety is shattered.
Industry minister Banri Kaieda on Monday night sought the people's understanding, reporting that "intense efforts are being made to keep damage to a minimum."
But as the situation deteriorated Tuesday, he kept almost mum to reporters' questions.
Nuclear power accounted for only 3 percent of the total power generation when the oil crisis of 1973 broke out. It grew to 26 percent in 2008.
The ministry has been turning more to nuclear power in efforts to reduce Japan's dependence on Middle East oil amid the growing competition in the world to obtain natural resources.
Because nuclear power generation does not emit greenhouse gases, the government has placed it as a key in its program to curb global warming, along with such renewable energy sources as solar and wind power.
The ministry's basic energy policy called for increasing the ratio of nuclear power, hydroelectric power and renewable energy sources to 50 percent or more in 2020 and 70 percent by 2030, from 35 percent in fiscal 2008.
Nuclear power accounted for most of the increases.
Economic and fiscal policy minister Kaoru Yosano, who formerly served as industry minister, said Tuesday that "use of nuclear power was unavoidable to support the country's economy and its people's livelihoods."
But the government's policy will no doubt be under much stricter scrutiny by the people after this crisis.
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