TOKYO -- Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda hinted yesterday that the government would announce a gradual abandonment of nuclear power when it issues a new energy policy this week. News reports said the cabinet had agreed to the new policy.

Noda said during a debate among party leadership candidates that he understands most Japanese support a nuclear-free country. He also said he would take into account his ruling party's recommendation last week that Japan's dependency on nuclear energy be phased out by the 2030s.

"There could be different views about how we can achieve that goal, and by factoring those into consideration our party last week proposed we should aim for a nuclear-free society. I must take this seriously," Noda said during the debate.

He said the new policy, expected by the end of the week, would be a major shift from Japan's decades-long advocacy of nuclear power.

News media reported yesterday that Noda and key cabinet ministers had agreed that the new energy policy will include an abandonment of nuclear power by the 2030s, mainly by retiring aging reactors and not replacing them.

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Based on the party proposal, the policy would include a 40-year cap on reactor life-spans, no construction of new nuclear reactors, and strict safety checks before any reactors are restarted. It calls for greater use of renewable energy and conservation efforts, such as using smart grids.

Japan has been discussing revisions to its energy policy following last year's disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant set off by a magnitude-8.9 earthquake and a devastating tsunami. Before the accident, resource-poor Japan relied on nuclear power for one-third of its energy needs and had planned to raise that to 50 percent by 2030.

The crisis fueled doubts about nuclear safety and caused a loss of public trust in the government and the nuclear industry. The growing anti-nuclear sentiment, including regular mass protests, made it difficult for the government and plant operators to restart reactors idled for inspections, and by early May all 50 Japanese reactors had gone offline.