Last week the Japanese government announced a goal to phase out nuclear power by 2040, which, before the nuclear accident at Fukushima, accounted for approximately 30 percent of the country’s electricity.

Yesterday, the government abruptly changed course, determining that it would not formally adopt that goal. The plan had drawn steep opposition from business groups and other communities who depend on local nuclear power plants for jobs and income. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s cabinet stated it would take the 2040 goal “into consideration” but would only offer its formal endorsement for a vague promise to open discussions with local governments and international communities to decide Japan’s energy future.

At a news conference following the announcement, Tadashi Okamura, chairman of the Japan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the original goal “was not a viable option in the first place.”

While Japan has 54 nuclear reactors across the country, many have been shut down following the meltdowns at Fukushima. Now only two plants remain open.

Yet the government’s decision to essentially abandon its 2040 goal – a goal that many questioned in the first place as not specific enough, not ambitious enough, or too ambitious – has drawn plenty of criticism from skeptics. The promise to end dependence on nuclear energy was originally made in July 2011 by then Prime Minister Naoto Kan, but while Prime Minister Noda has said he wanted to reduce Japan’s nuclear energy capacity, he also made moves to restart the industry.

Many doubt whether the government can adequately regulate nuclear power production. Yukio Edano, minister of economy, trade and industry, said the government will help build “the highest-level regulations and disaster-preparedness plans in the world.”

While the world will have to wait and see if the Japanese government can live up to that high standard, countries everywhere should learn a lesson about the dangers of becoming too dependent on one form of energy – whatever form that is. Allowing nuclear energy to dominate its electricity supply has left the country’s entire economy vulnerable.

Main photo credit: Shutterstock