Francisco A. Laguna & Jennie Linder Cunningham
This week, we continue our series on Japan’s energy sector, focusing on post-Fukushima resource security. Historically, and until the event of the development of nuclear power, Japan has existed as a resource-poor nation with few natural sources of energy, in particular, domestic hydrocarbon reserves. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the March 2011 Fukushima disaster, Japan has returned to a position in which it is able to generate only a small proportion of energy domestically at a time the government struggles to correct a volatile economy and search for resource supplies acceptable to the population. Although the initial popular reaction was to oppose a continuation of nuclear energy, the political and economic situation became more complicated by the overwhelming victory of the pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in both the legislature and the executive branch in December 2012; the latter with the election of Shinzo Abe to the office of Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Abe quickly moved to try to secure liquefied natural gas exports to Japan from the United States at the U.S.-Japan summit in February 2013. Prime Minister Abe also expressed his commitment to strengthening the U.S.-Japan alliance, prioritizing it as the linchpin of Japanese diplomacy. This intention was later released as part of a joint statement by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe. Observers of Asian geopolitics would be interested to note that both measures should likely be considered part of a deliberate strategy to ally with the U.S. (potentially) to balance the power of the Chinese state and economy, as well as to avoid having to rely on China or Russia for necessary energy resources.
Japan has begun to take an increasingly forward stance on expressing its current and future security strategy, evidenced by the joint statement mentioned above, as well as the issuance of an actual National Security Strategy, the first in years, and the formation of a National Security Council on December 4, 2013. Japan’s recent defense strategy under Prime Minister Abe appears to go hand in hand with its revised and evolving resource security strategy. Notable developments, include the approval of a long-delayed plan to construct a new airbase on Okinawa that would replace the current Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, a project that had stalled since 1996, mainly due to local opposition as well as the opposition of previous Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.
Japan has several options for replacing the nuclear power on which it has heavily relied – but none are cheap, and most have related political consequences that are less than desirable. Although oil and natural gas replaced nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, long-term fossil fuel importation is not the most viable or appropriate option for Japan, primarily due to rising costs, environmental concerns, a government pledge to reduce emissions and the destruction of a number coal-fired electric plants during the earthquake. Additionally, Japan already has the infrastructure designed for alternative energy sources: liquified natural gas, including 30 operational LNG import terminals; and an extensive nuclear power system. Japan was forced to turn to an increasing use of fossil fuels to generate electricity after its nuclear capacity went offline. Japan is currently the world’s third largest consumer and importer of oil behind just the United States and China, and the second largest importer of coal behind China.
Next week, we will continue our discussion on Japan’s options for energy security.
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