TOKYO - Prime Minister Naoto Kan said on Tuesday that renewable energy would be a key pillar of Japan's energy policy after the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years and that its nuclear policy must be reviewed from scratch.
The massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima plant in northeast Japan, and the prolonged crisis could hamper Japan's efforts to reduce its use of fossil fuels. The plant is still leaking radiation.
"The current basic energy policy envisages that over 50 percent of total electricity supply will come from nuclear power while more than 20 percent will come from renewable power in 2030. But that basic plan needs to be reviewed now from scratch after this big incident," Kan told a news conference.
In an energy plan unveiled last year, Japan said it planned to build at least 14 new reactors by 2030. Officials have acknowledged that proceeding as planned would be tough in the wake of the nuclear disaster.
"I think it is necessary to move in the direction of promoting natural energy and renewable energy," Kan added, citing wind, solar or biomass energy as possible alternative sources -- areas in which Japan lags globally.
Japanese engineers are still trying to gain control of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo, whose cooling system was knocked out after the quake and tsunami and four out of the six reactors at the plant remain volatile.
Unpopular Kan, under fire for his handling of the Fukushima crisis, last week called for Chubu Electric's Hamaoka nuclear plant in central Japan to halt operations until it can be better defended against a major tsunami, and Chubu on Monday reluctantly agreed to this.
While some have lauded Kan's calls, several business leaders and media, which tend to be close to the politically influential nuclear power industry, have criticised his move as being too abrupt and lacking a sound explanation.
Kan defended his decision, saying that the request was made after careful deliberation.
Japan will need to conduct a thorough investigation into the nuclear incident, Kan said, adding he wants to call on the international community for safer use of nuclear power.
Nearly 26,000 people were killed or are still missing after the quake and tsunami which triggered the world's biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
The prime minister, who is the fifth leader of Japan in as many years, is likely to speak about his country's atomic crisis at the Group of Eight summit at the end of May in France.
(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Nick Macfie)