The ruling Democratic Party of Japan will establish a research commission to determine what ratio of electricity should be generated by nuclear energy in 2030 as the nation scales back its reliance on nuclear power.
The Noda administration has been debating three options: zero percent, 15 percent and between 20 and 25 percent.
It had initially intended to present its new energy policy in late August. But mounting public opposition to nuclear energy following last year's Fukushima disaster, coupled with strident calls in the business community to maintain some level of nuclear energy, has led to a delay in announcing the policy course.
It remains unclear whether the DPJ research commission will yield sufficient clout to reach an early decision because the party itself is sharply divided on the issue.
The DPJ panel will be headed by Seiji Maehara, who led the party from 2005 to 2006 and is now its policy research chief. Yoshito Sengoku, a staunch advocate of maintaining some degree of nuclear energy, will serve as secretary-general.
Acting as a counterbalance in the role of adviser will be Naoto Kan, who was prime minister at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Kan champions phasing out dependence on nuclear energy.
It is envisaged that all DPJ lawmakers will be able to attend the commission sessions. It is expected to announce its recommendation by Sept. 8, when the ordinary Diet session is scheduled to end.
In an Aug. 11 speech in Nagahama, Shiga Prefecture, Maehara talked about the difficulties of making a decision on the future of nuclear energy.
While saying Japan should seek to become a society without nuclear power plants, Maehara said: "It will be difficult when considering the effects in terms of cost, energy conservation and the possibility of rolling blackouts. The issue will be how to realistically reduce (dependence on nuclear energy)."
Sengoku has come out in favor of the 15-percent option. He has said the zero percent option is unrealistic.
"We cannot allow the people's standard of living to fall," he said. "Things will not go smoothly just by moving away from nuclear energy."
On the other hand, Kan is putting together a road map for bringing all nuclear plants offline by fiscal 2025.
He has also called for legislation to commit Japan to moving away from nuclear energy. He said the DPJ should come out with a clear policy direction for a nuclear-free society.
Given the sharp differences of opinion within the party, and the possibility of a delay in announcing one of the three options, the Noda administration may find itself postponing a decision on future energy policy for some time to come.
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