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Japan’s methane hydrate production test first step to ending the country’s energy crisis


May, 2017
A. Solomon
Ed. M. DeHart
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Experts examining water decontamination facility at Fukushima I

Nesimi Kilic and Pil-Soo Hahn

Source: IAEA Imagebank

Burning methane hydrate to release methane

Methane hydrate burning

Source:United States Geological survey

Japan may have gas. And that’s a good thing!

Six years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Japan may have found a way out of its energy crisis.

Since the  catastrophic meltdown of the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in 2011, Japan has become a top importer of liquefied natural gas(LNG). Shortly after the disaster, a strong public outcry led to the shutdown of all the country’s nuclear plants, placing greater demand on the country’s ability to sustain the necessary energy output.

Before Fukushima, Japan was primarily reliant on its nuclear reactors for energy. However, after the fallout from the tsunami destruction, the 48 nuclear reactors were shut down by local governments that were facing immense pressure from the public.

How do you keep an industrial nation going when its primary energy source is gone?

You import.

To fill the vacancy, Japan began importing more LNG and coal, then started firing up old fossil fuel plants to meet the country’s needs. This course of action has driven up Japan’s trade deficit, leaving them a little worse for wear. This, combined with a 30% loss in energy supply and sustained public pressure to keep the plants closed, the Japanese government has been nearing desperation. Only 3 of the 45 commercial nuclear reactors have been restarted, leaving Japan in need of a miracle.

Queue methane discovery.

For those not familiar with the term “methane hydrate,” the term refers to methane gas surrounded by water or, more accurately, by ice.

Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) has reported successful extraction of methane gas from methane hydrate deposits off Japan’s Central coast. Last Monday’s announcement signals a resurrection for Japan. With an estimated 40 trillion cubic feet of methane hydrates under the Nankai Trough, they could meet  approximately  11 years of gas consumption, perhaps buying enough time to recapture the public’s trust in nuclear energy or even discover a different energy source. Who knows? By 2023 Japan’s METI will launch private sector commercial production on these reserves providing respite from this tumultuous decade.

Japan possesses very little in the way of natural resources, making this successful test in natural gas access a potential game changer. With unnerving memories still fresh in the public’s mind, this would be a welcome addition to Japan’s energy portfolio.

  1. https://bpr.berkeley.edu/2014/11/11/solving-japans-energy-crisis/
  2. http://www.reuters.com/article/japan-methane-hydrate-idUSL4N1IA35A
  3. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-09-10/japan-takes-another-step-toward-restarting-nuclear-power-plants
  4. http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/04/24/national/saga-governor-green-lights-restart-genkai-nuclear-reactors/
  5. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-09-18/japan-s-idled-reactors-weak-yen-drive-deficit-on-energy


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