Japan's Cabinet on Friday approved a new energy policy, reversing the previous government's plans to gradually mothball nuclear power plants following the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The plan defines nuclear as an "important baseload power source" and also says Japan will do as much as possible to increase renewable energy supplies, Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a news conference after the Cabinet meeting.
The decision to reinstate nuclear power is likely to be unpopular and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had to spend months convincing sceptical members of his ruling Liberal Democratic Party as well coalition partner New Komeito, which opposes atomic energy, to accept the final draft of the plan.
The public has turned against nuclear power after watching Tokyo Electric Power Co's struggle to deal with the disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi station following a massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
The crisis was the worst since the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and all reactors in Japan have been shut for safety checks with no schedule for restarts. Recent polls put opposition to nuclear restarts at about two-to-one over support.
The Democratic Party of Japan decided on an energy policy that set targets for renewable energy and pledged to phase out nuclear power but was swept from power by the LDP at the end of 2012.
The plan may also be too little too late for the country's moribund atomic industry, which is floundering under the weight of estimated losses of almost $50 billion, forcing two utilities to ask the government for capital last week.
They've had to pay out almost $90 billion on replacement fossil fuels and reportedly spent an estimated 1.6 trillion yen ($16 billion) on nuclear plant upgrades to meet new safety guidelines.
A recent Reuters analysis shows as many as two-thirds of the country's 48 idled nuclear reactors may have to be mothballed because of the high cost of further upgrades, local opposition or seismic risks.
"I think it is unavoidable that the Japanese utilities will write off most of their nuclear 'assets' and move on," said Mycle Schneider, a Paris-based independent energy consultant.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Writing and additional reporting by Aaron Sheldrick; Editing by Ed Davies and Joseph Radford)
$1 = 101.5200 Japanese Yen