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By Osamu Tsukimori and Kentaro Hamada
TOKYO, May 20 (Reuters) - The Japanese government's move to reinstate nuclear as an important power source under its energy policy is at odds with increasing global awareness that the age of nuclear power is "coming to an end", an advocate of renewable energy said.
Three years after the Fukushima disaster prompted the closure of all of Japan's reactors, the government decided last month to revive nuclear as a core part of the energy mix, concerned about the high cost of importing fossil fuels and the heavy financial burden on the country's utilities.
But Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Japan-based Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies (ISEP), said the Nuclear Regulation Authority's safety checks needed to be more rigorous and take into account disaster evacuation plans for local governments.
"The basic energy plan does not show that lessons from the Fukushima accident were learned at all, and is one that would force a retreat to the old safety myth of nuclear power," Iida said at the Reuters Japan Investment Summit on Tuesday.
"The efforts are underway to restart nuclear power, but it is a problem that this is happening without guaranteeing actual safety."
Iida, who founded the ISEP in 2000, had also served as member of a trade ministry committee under the previous Democratic Party government that was compiling an energy plan.
Iida said the creation of Japan's feed-in tariff scheme in 2012 has sparked a wave of investment in renewable energy in the country, totalling 2.8 trillion yen ($28 billion) in the last business year, accounting for 10 percent of such global investment.
"The biggest reasons behind the stalled investments in nuclear power globally are the huge rise in costs and the super long lead time," Iida said.
He said that from 2004 to 2014, renewable energy such as wind and solar power has grown rapidly in terms of power generated per year, while nuclear power's total generation has more or less plateaued as output from new nuclear plants has been offset by decommissioned plants.
He also noted that in Germany, greater use of renewable energy has led to lower power prices during the day time, which has lessened the need for coal- and gas-fired power plants.
Iida expressed concern about the lack of consolidated voices of opposition to the pro-nuclear policies of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party and the worsening situation of contaminated water at the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi plant.
"Electric companies will pressure consumers to accept rate hikes or nuclear restarts, but in reality, only around 10 reactors (out of Japan's 48 reactors) will be allowed to restart a few years from now," he said. ($1 = 101.1700 Japanese Yen)
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