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Japan clear about nuclear power

Japan unveiled its first draft energy policy since the Fukushima meltdown three years ago, saying nuclear power remains an important source of electricity for the country.

The draft presented Tuesday to the Cabinet for approval expected in March, said Japan's nuclear energy dependency will be reduced as much as possible, but that reactors meeting new safety standards set after the 2011 nuclear crisis should be restarted.

Japan has 48 commercial reactors, but all have been offline for safety inspections since the crisis.

The draft of the Basic Energy Plan said that a mix of nuclear, renewables and fossil fuel will be the most reliable and stable source of electricity to meet Japan's energy needs. It did not specify the exact mix, citing uncertain factors such as the number of reactor restarts and the pace of renewable energy development.

The government had planned to release the draft in January but a recommendation submitted by an expert panel was judged to be too pro-nuclear. Tuesday's draft apparently added slightly more emphasis on renewable energy and flexibility to nuclear fuel cycles.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, in charge of compiling the plan, told reporters that "in principle, the direction (toward less nuclear reliance) has not changed." He called on additional efforts to accelerate the development of renewable energy over the next few years.

The draft says Japan will continue its nuclear fuel recycling policy for now despite uncertainty at key facilities for the program. It added there was a need for "flexibility" for possible changes to the recycling policy down the road.

Japan has tons of spent fuel and a stockpile of extracted plutonium, causing international concerns about nuclear proliferation. Officials have said the most realistic way to consume and reduce the plutonium is to restart the reactors to burn it.

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