ARKANSAS, Sept 20 (Future Headlines)- Japan, a country known for its delicate balance between energy supply and environmental sustainability, is witnessing a significant development in its energy landscape. Kansai Electric Power, one of Japan’s major utilities, has resumed power generation at its Takahama No.2 nuclear reactor after an extended closure for safety inspections initiated in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. This move is not only a step towards revitalizing Japan’s nuclear energy sector but also has important implications for the country’s overall energy mix, particularly its reliance on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other fossil fuels.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011, triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami, led to a significant shift in Japan’s energy policy. In the aftermath of the disaster, the Japanese government embarked on a cautious and rigorous path to reevaluate its nuclear power plants’ safety measures. As a result, many nuclear reactors across the country were subjected to stricter safety inspections, leading to extended shutdowns.

Kansai Electric Power, a key player in Japan’s energy sector, had its Takahama No.2 nuclear reactor offline since November 2011 for reinforcement and safety inspections. However, in a recent development, the utility reactivated the aged No.2 reactor on September 15, 2023, and subsequently resumed test generation on September 20, 2023. Normal operations at full capacity, which amounts to 826MW, are scheduled to commence on October 16, 2023. This marks a significant milestone in Japan’s nuclear energy recovery, as it signals the return to service of all seven reactors owned by Kansai Electric Power.

Kansai’s decision to restart the Takahama No.2 reactor carries several important implications. Japan has long grappled with the challenge of diversifying its energy mix to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. The resumption of nuclear power generation contributes to this diversification, providing a reliable source of low-carbon electricity.

Japan has been a major importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to compensate for the reduced nuclear capacity in the post-Fukushima era. With nuclear reactors coming back online, there is potential for reduced demand for LNG, which could impact global LNG markets. Increasing nuclear capacity enhances Japan’s energy security by reducing its vulnerability to supply disruptions in LNG and other fossil fuels, which are often subject to price volatility and geopolitical risks.

Nuclear power is a low-carbon energy source, and its resurgence aligns with Japan’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change. It allows Japan to generate electricity with lower carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels. The revival of nuclear power can have economic implications, including potential cost savings in electricity generation and reduced reliance on expensive LNG imports.

The increased nuclear capacity resulting from the reactivation of the Takahama No.2 reactor is estimated to have a noticeable impact on LNG demand. According to a survey based on data from the Japan Electric Power Exchange (Jepx), Kansai’s operational nuclear capacity is expected to average 5,054MW during December 2023 to February 2024, an increase of 672MW compared to the previous year. Assuming full nuclear capacity utilization and an average generation efficiency of 49%, the increased nuclear generation could lead to a reduction in LNG demand of approximately 195,000 metric tons or about three standard-sized LNG cargoes during the same period. This projection underscores the role of nuclear power in reshaping Japan’s energy landscape.

To gain a deeper understanding of Kansai Electric Power’s changing energy consumption patterns, it’s essential to examine its recent consumption trends. In the April 2022-March 2023 fiscal year, Kansai Electric Power burned approximately 4.3 million metric tons of LNG, marking a 3.4% decrease from the previous year. This decline is indicative of a reduced reliance on LNG for electricity generation.

The company’s coal consumption also experienced a notable decrease, falling by 8.4% to 3.58 million metric tons during the same fiscal year. This decline reflects a broader shift away from coal due to environmental concerns and the pursuit of cleaner energy sources. Surprisingly, Kansai Electric Power’s oil consumption increased by 16% to 17,233 barrels per day during the same period. This rise in oil consumption can be attributed to the price competitiveness of oil in the company’s merit order, which is a hierarchy used to dispatch power generation sources based on their variable costs.

The resurgence of nuclear power in Japan, exemplified by Kansai Electric Power’s decision to restart the Takahama No.2 reactor, has significant implications for the nation’s energy landscape and policy decisions. While the return of nuclear capacity offers benefits such as reduced carbon emissions, enhanced energy security, and potential cost savings, it also raises questions and considerations.

Safety remains a paramount concern for nuclear power. Ensuring that nuclear facilities adhere to the highest safety standards and addressing public perception and trust are crucial for the continued success of nuclear energy in Japan. Investing in advanced nuclear reactor technologies, including next-generation reactors, can further enhance safety, efficiency, and sustainability in nuclear power generation.

Japan will need to carefully balance its energy mix, considering factors such as nuclear, renewable energy, and natural gas, to meet its climate goals while ensuring a reliable power supply. Government policies and regulations will play a pivotal role in shaping the future of nuclear power in Japan. Supportive policies can incentivize investment in nuclear infrastructure and research. Japan’s decisions regarding nuclear power will have implications for global energy markets, particularly LNG. Changes in Japan’s LNG demand could affect pricing and trade dynamics in the LNG market. The impact of Japan’s nuclear resurgence extends beyond its borders, with potential implications for global energy markets, particularly in the LNG sector. The future of nuclear power in Japan will undoubtedly be a critical element of the nation’s broader energy and environmental policies.

Writing by Sarah White