A new plan for a massive shift to renewables could move Japan away from nuclear permanently, even as it creates hundreds of thousands of jobs for the country's ailing economy.

The plan, which was crafted by Greenpeace, the German Aerospace Center, and the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies, has the country getting off nuclear completely by 2012. That would involve energy conservation measures equivalent to 10 to 12 nuclear reactors, or about 11,000 megawatts (MW), and a ramp-up of wind power generation from 3,500 MW to 47,200 MW by 2015. Throw in some solar panels — enough for about 20 million households — and voila, energy crisis over.

While a rapid switch to renewables has kind of always made sense for an island nation with no domestic sources of energy other than sun and wind, the tricky bit is in making this transition without alienating all of the heavy industries on which Japan relies for exports. That's why the brand new prime minister of Japan told his citizens that they have to stick with nuclear energy through 2030, even though approximately two-thirds of the people he rules are in favor of ditching it all together.

Whether or not it happens, Japan will need to replace an amount of power equivalent to the 43 nuclear reactors that are currently off-line in that country. Failure to do so could wreck the economy.

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With any luck, Japan will have converted to renewables right about the time that they're ready to default on their debt, at which point their newfound self-sufficiency should be especially handy.

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