By Eric Watkins
LOS ANGELES, June 5 – Fossil fuels now provide some 90% of Japan’s electricity, as nuclear plants remain shut down. Consumption of crude and heavy oil for electricity is at a four-year high.
Historically, nuclear power provided about 30% of Japan’s electricity. But as nuclear power production has dwindled, World Nuclear News reports that liquefied natural gas (LNG) has filled the gap, citing data of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).
Use of LNG in January to April 2012 is up 34% on the same period in 2011, making Japan the world’s largest LNG consumer.
The other fuel to step in to replace nuclear power has been petroleum – crude oil and heavy oil. Use of these has doubled since February 2011 and is at its highest level since February 2008.
Data on the environmental cost of this rush to fossil fuels in not yet public, but the economic impact has seen Japan’s trade balance dip into the red and sent its companies scrambling to secure LNG supplies.
The cause of these changes in Japan’s energy supplies is the shutdown of 50 reactors that await approval to restart after the unprecedented accident at Fukushima Daiichi.
Four reactors there were wrecked after sea and flood defenses failed in the face of the tsunami of March 11, 2011.
Operators must demonstrate they are better prepared to manage severe accidents and show regulators that their stress tests have properly considered external risks.
At the same time, the Japanese government must put in place a more independent regulatory system, satisfy the public that the factors leading to the Fukushima accident have been properly addressed, and develop a new energy policy.
World Nuclear News said that the first units to restart will probably be Oi 3 and 4, owned by Kansai Electric Power Co. Regulators have approved their restart, as has the local town council.
Approval at the prefectural level should follow, but Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has said that he will make the final decision on restart.
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