(EnergyAsia, March 18 2013, Monday) — Japan’s dependence on oil, gas and coal to generate electricity surged 21% last year as almost all its nuclear power capacity remained offline as a result of the March 2011 earthquake-tsunami tragedy, said the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) giant Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was destroyed by the 9-richter quake and a resultant tsunami that together killed more than 20,000 people.
All reactors in Japan were required to perform computer-simulated stress tests to confirm their continued ability to operate safely in the event of a natural disaster. On May 5, 2012, the last of the country’s 54 nuclear generating reactors was shut down for scheduled maintenance and stress tests. Only two reactors, Ohi Units 3 and 4, have since restarted, but they will also be shutdown again later this year.
Last September, the government established the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) as an administrative part of the Cabinet to ensure the safe operation of the country’s nuclear power plants. Any attempts to restart of Japan’s nuclear power plants will require the approval of the NRA and the Natural Resources and Energy Agency within the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.
Against the backdrop of increased thermal generation and trade deficits, in January 2013, the NRA announced that final nuclear safety regulations will be issued six months later, said the EIA.
“The new regulations are expected to address severe accidents and direct attacks, emergency preparedness and response, and seismic conditions near existing nuclear power plants. All nuclear power plants must meet these new regulations and pass seismic inspections in order to restart,” said the EIA.
“The economic effects on Japan’s electric power utilities of implementing the new regulations are unclear at this time, although some estimates exceed US$11 billion, and Japan’s national policy on nuclear power as a component of its future energy mix is evolving. These two circumstances result in uncertainty about the future of nuclear power in Japan.”
Between 1987 and 2011, nuclear generation accounted for an average of 30% of Japan’s total generation, said the EIA.
As a result of the nuclear outages, fossil fuels provided 90% of the country’s total electricity output in 2012, with hydro generating 8% and nuclear only 2%.
Since March 2011, Japan’s electric power utilities have been consuming more natural gas (largely imported as liquefied natural gas) and petroleum to make up for the shortfall in nuclear output, with a smaller increase in the consumption of coal.
In 2012, Japan’s consumption of natural gas to produce electricity was up 15%. Its LNG use set a record in January 2012, nearing nine billion cubic feet per day, about two billion cubic feet per day greater than levels in early 2011.