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Japan's first energy plan since Fukushima crisis say nuclear power important energy source

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TOKYO - Japan unveiled its first draft energy policy since the Fukushima meltdowns 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 are offline until and unless they pass the new safety requirements.

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 added slightly more emphasis on renewable energy.

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, in charge of compiling the plan, told reporters that "in principle, the direction has not changed." He called for 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, but added there is a need for "flexibility" for possible changes to the 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.

The previous energy plan compiled in 2010 called for a boost in nuclear power to about half of Japan's electricity needs by 2030 from about one-third before the Fukushima disaster.

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