DOE Official Compares Japan, U.S. Views on Energy Security

HOUSTON, September 25, 2013 — The energy landscape in Japan and the United States has shifted almost in the blink of an eye. The 2011 disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant has thrown in doubt the predominant role nuclear had long been projected to play in Japan’s electricity generation, while in the U.S. the shale gas revolution over the past decade has upped the role for natural gas in this country’s energy picture.

Jeffrey Miller, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Japan Office, outlined the differences and similarities in U.S. and Japanese response to this new energy landscape in a talk at Asia Society Texas Center. The U.S.-Japan Council co-presented the event.

Both countries, he said, seek an “all-of-the-above” mix of energy sources, in which oil, natural gas, clean coal, nuclear, and renewables have a place.

The shale gas revolution in the U.S. has meant coal’s role in the energy future has declined, while natural gas and renewables loom significantly larger. In Japan the future of nuclear in a post-Fukushima era is the great unknown.

“I can’t emphasize to you enough how devastating the Fukushima accident has been to Japan,” Miller said. “To be sure there are new opportunities in the area of energy that have arisen. One example is renewable energy, another is the pending legislation on power grid reform…. The fact remains that Japan continues to feel the impact of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident more than two and a half years later.”

Today none of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors is online, he said. They had been producing 30 percent of the country’s power generation.

“The government is officially projecting 50 reactors as candidates for restarting,” Miller said. “However I think the number realistically is much less.”

Uncertainty over nuclear is complicating Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s attempts to develop a comprehensive energy plan for the country.

“Japan needs some time to see how many plants it can restart and how much renewable energy it can realistically bring onto the grid before it sets energy mix targets or takes any steps toward political greenhouse gas reduction targets,” Miller said.

But increasing imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) is certainly part of the strategy for making up the shortfall, and it’s no secret that Japan is looking to the U.S. for LNG imports.

“Japan sees North America and specifically the U.S. as a serious source of gas in the future,” Miller said. “As much as 20 percent of Japan’s LNG imports Japan would like to come from North America.”

Nevertheless, in the interests of diversification of supply and because U.S. LNG exports are probably five years away, Japan is aggressively seeking gas and gas plays around the globe, he said.

U.S. energy strategy is similar to Japan’s in its emphasis on developing a variety of cleaner and cheaper domestic and international sources.

The United States will continue to rely on nuclear power and will increase its reliance on natural gas, Miller said. Both countries are pursuing renewables and will continue to use coal, with the emphasis in the U.S. on clean coal technologies.

Reported by Fritz Lanham


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