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Japan energy deadlock deepens; gov't fails to announce policy mix

TOKYO -- Deadlock in Japan between anti-nuclear activists and advocates of atomic power deepened on Monday as the government failed to produce an expected proposal to reduce the role of nuclear power in the country's energy portfolio after the Fukushima disaster.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's government had been widely expected to announce a decision on energy policy and a reduction of the share of nuclear power to 15 percent or less by 2030.

Instead, Noda said he wanted the government to decide the direction of energy policy this week.

“The present situation is that the majority of the people want us to aim at a zero-nuclear society,” the prime minister told a news conference after formally announcing his candidacy for re-election as Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) leader.

The government has been drafting a new energy policy since the Fukushima plant was crippled by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, the world's worst nuclear accident in 25 years. It had to scrap plans to boost nuclear's share of electricity supply to more than 50 percent from nearly 30 percent before the crisis.

The issue could become a focal point of a general election expected within months that Noda's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is likely to lose and the government has wavered over whether to set a timetable for abandoning atomic energy.

“They must feel very threatened by having a policy put in place, even by a party that's expected to suffer a major defeat in the next election,” said Andrew DeWit, a professor at Rikkyo University, referring to pro-nuclear power interests.

“I guess they worry that the next government might not want to or be able to roll this back.”

Earlier on Monday, Noda said in his platform for re-election as party leader that Japan should aim to abandon nuclear power. But he gave no timetable for doing so. Noda faces three rivals, but is expected to be re-elected as head of his party, which proposed last week that Japan should move toward ending reliance on nuclear power by the 2030s.

Noda also said Japan should build no new nuclear reactors and strictly apply a law limiting to 40 years the lifespan of existing units. That would bring atomic power's share to around 15 percent of electricity by 2030 and zero by mid-century.

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