It has been a bumpy road, but Japan is closer than ever to seeing a return to nuclear power.
Four years after Fukushima, Japan still has all of its nuclear reactors shut down. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pushed hard to allow some of the fifty-odd shuttered reactors to come back online, but has faced firm resistance from a nuclear-skeptical public.
And a little over a week ago it appeared that Abe’s goal of bringing back some nuclear power would be put on ice. On April 14 a court blocked Kansai Electric Power’s plant to restart two reactors in Fukui province. That bolstered anti-nuclear critics, and raised the possibility of a much longer delay. The court even said that the Nuclear Regulatory Authority’s (NRA) safety review was inadequate, lending credibility to nuclear opponents. Related: Post-Fukushima Japan Turns To Wind As Solution For Energy Crisis
However, as it has been in Japan over the last few years, every hiccup is followed by some progress. On April 22, a separate court dismissed the legal challenges of some nuclear critics against the Sendai nuclear power plant, potentially clearing the way for its restart. Sendai, owned by Kyushu Electric Power, is slated to be the first nuclear power plant to come back online since the 2011 meltdown.
An official from the NRA said that the final green light for Sendai is “very close.” Sendai, located in southwest Japan, could even begin operating by June. Related: Natgas Boom Undermining U.S. Nuclear Future
A return to nuclear power for Japan would have dramatic consequences for a country that is so dependent on fossil fuels. Japan imported a record level of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for the fiscal year that ended on March 31. The 89.07 million tons of LNG imported was an all-time high and a 1.5 percent increase over the previous year. Japan was already the largest importer of LNG before the Fukushima meltdown, but its imports of LNG surged after the disaster as Japan scrambled to make up for the lost power from its idled nuclear reactors.
More nuclear power would provide a further boost to the Japanese economy, which just posted its first trade surplus since 2012. Imported oil, LNG, and coal after Fukushima have sapped the country of resources, and turned years of surpluses into deficits. But the 2014-2015 oil bust has brought its deficit down. Related: Oil Price War May Benefit Both US Shale And Saudi Arabia
If Japan can successfully bring some of its nuclear reactors back online – even if they come back slowly, one by one – that would cut down on its dependence of imported energy.
For producers targeting the Japanese market, on the other hand, that would be bad news. LNG prices have already plummeted under the weight of new supplies and the oil price collapse. More Japanese nuclear power would contribute to more downward pressure on LNG prices.
By Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
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