Nuclear-free Japan not bad for economy: minister

Japan's industry minister stepped into the national debate on energy policy, saying the nation could phase out nuclear power by 2030 without hurting the world's third-largest economy.

"We can do it," Yukio Edano told reporters in Tokyo on Tuesday when asked about the impact of abandoning Japan's stable of nuclear reactors.

"I don't think the zero scenario is negative for Japan's economy. On the contrary, it can create growth as efforts to develop renewable energy and improve energy-efficiency could boost domestic demand," he added.

Tokyo ushered in new rules last month that require utilities to buy all electricity produced from renewable sources, including solar and wind power, at above-market rates for two decades, to stoke "green" power investment.

Edano's comments come as the government worked to hammer out a new energy policy in the wake of last year's Fukushima atomic crisis, the worst in a generation that led to Japan switching off its 50 nuclear reactors.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has since authorised the re-start of two reactors amid looming power shortages, a deeply unpopular move that has sparked huge anti-nuclear protests in usually sedate Japan.

The move away from nuclear has meant a huge increase in Tokyo's energy bills as it turns to pricey fossil-fuel alternatives.

Noda has pledged to deliver a new energy policy by the end of 2012, with the options ranging from cutting nuclear altogether by 2030 to nuclear supplying about one-third of Japan's power -- the level before the disaster.

Under a zero-nuclear scenario, government-chosen experts have forecasted Japan's economic growth could fall between 1.2 and 7.6 percent by 2030 compared with returning atomic energy to pre-disaster levels.

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