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Japan eyes more renewable energy use, plans to cut plutonium pile

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Japan will shift further toward renewable energy and cut dependence on fossil fuels and nuclear power, according to the country's energy plan approved Tuesday by the Cabinet.

Ahead of the automatic renewal in July of a U.S.-Japan agreement on peaceful use of nuclear energy, the plan for medium- to long-term energy policy also mentioned for the first time that Japan will work to reduce its plutonium stockpile.

The increased focus on renewables underscores Japan's daunting challenge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically in the years ahead under the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The government, which updates the energy plan roughly every three years, maintained the targets for its mix of energy sources in fiscal 2030 but did not give specific numbers for fiscal 2050, when it has to clear a certain goal in fighting global warming.

Toward 2030, the government aims to have renewables account for 22 to 24 percent, fossil fuels 56 percent, and nuclear power 20 to 22 percent in the country's electricity generation, the energy plan showed.

With its energy self-sufficiency ratio below 10 percent in 2016, resource-poor Japan needs to secure stable energy supplies for economic activity and national security while also ensuring the safety of nuclear power generation following the 2011 Fukushima accident.

The country also needs to accelerate efforts to fight global warming, now that it has set the goal of achieving an 80 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions in fiscal 2050 from 2013 levels.

The energy plan calls for supporting the development of a sustainable market for renewables such as solar, wind and geothermal power and encourages the use of hydrogen.

Japan, placing priority on safety, will cut dependence on nuclear power generation "as much as possible," the energy plan said.

Still, it also acknowledged that nuclear power is one of the viable choices to achieve a shift away from using coal and other fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Many of the country's nuclear power plants have been taken offline since the Fukushima disaster. The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seeking to restart plants that have cleared safety checks.

The Japan-U.S. nuclear pact enables Japan to have a spent fuel reprocessing program for 30 years to July 2018.

Spent fuel from nuclear reactors is reprocessed to extract uranium and plutonium, which is then recycled into fuel called mixed oxide, or MOX, for use in fast-breeder reactors or conventional nuclear reactors.

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