Japanese ministers have agreed to an energy plan that includes the potential to restart the country’s 48 nuclear reactors, which have been shut down since the Fukushima accident.

The so-called "Fourth Basic Energy Plan", first published by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry in February, was agreed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet on Friday. Although it opened the door to nuclear restarts, it also set aims to reduce Japan’s reliance on nuclear, saying it would work hard to increase the proportion of renewable energy. It named coal and hydropower as other "baseload energy sources".

The new plan is unlikely to see all of Japan’s reactors restarted. At the moment, 17 units have applied for permission to go back on line, but upgrades required after the Fukushima disaster – and local opposition- may mean those projects make slow progress. The cost of upgrading plants could mean that up to half the country’s older plants never come back on line, consultant Wood Mackenzie told the UK’s Financial Times.

The decision will come as a relief to Japan’s power utilities, who have had to meet power needs with imported fuel, largely gas. Two utilities have already asked the Japanese government for a capital injection to help manage mounting financial losses.