May 31, 2003



Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.9 (May 2003)

Japan's primary energy supply increased from 441 million kiloliters (oil equivalent) in 1973 to 526 million in 1990, then to 604 million in 2000.

The table below shows the primary energy supply trends, by energy source.

Natural gas2%10%13%
New energy1%1%1%

The table shows that Japan's top energy source is oil. Japan depends on imports for 100 percent of its oil supply, and approximately 80 percent of it is imported from the Middle East. The table also shows that Japan's oil dependency has decreased considerably since the oil shocks of the 1970s, to be replaced by nuclear and natural gas.

Japan's rate of energy self-sufficiency (i.e., percentage of geothermal, domestic coal and natural gas, and new energy in its total energy supply), has plunged from approximately 56 percent in 1960 to 14 percent in 1970, 6 percent in 1980, 5 percent in 1990, then to 4 percent in 2000.

If nuclear power is included in the calculation, the figures for energy self-sufficiency are 15 percent in 1970, 12 percent in 1980, 17 percent in 1990, and about 20 percent in 1999.

Electricity generation expanded from 379 billion kWh in 1973 to 738 billion kWh in 1990, then to 940 billion kWh in 2000.

The table below shows power generation by energy source.

Thermal, oil73%29%11%
Thermal, coal5%10%18%
Thermal, LNG2%22%26%
New energy--0.2%

Japan's first nuclear power plant started commercial operations in July 1966. Since then, their numbers have expanded, and as of August 2002, 53 nuclear power plants were in operation in the country, totaling 45.9 million kW in power generating capacity. In addition, four plants (total capacity of 4.1 million kW) are under construction and eight more are in the preparation phase for construction.

Note: In summer of 2002, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the largest power company in Japan, was reported to have conducted improper handling of inspections and repair work at its nuclear power plants, including hiding facts and revising reports to conceal information. After the incident, TEPCO stopped operations of all of its 17 nuclear power plants for checking and inspection. One plant resumed operations on 9 May 2003, but as of the end of May 2003, the other 16 plants have not resumed operations.

As the Guidelines for Measures to Prevent Global Warming stress the importance of new construction and expansion of capacity of nuclear power plants, aiming at an increase of about 30 percent from 2000 levels by 2010, it is clear that the government sees nuclear power as one of the key measures in its strategy.

On the other hand, an increasing number of citizens are becoming concerned about safety and nuclear waste aspects of nuclear power generation, as well as the earthquake threat to nuclear power -- Japan is an earthquake-prone country and one of the nuclear power plants is located in the potential impact zone of a major earthquake in the Tokai area that is predicted to occur some time in the future. Despite the governments plans and measures to promote nuclear, the siting and construction of new nuclear plants has not proceeded on schedule, due to strong opposition from local residents.

Although the Guidelines indicate that "new energy" in Japan now accounts for only 1 percent of primary energy supply, it expresses the expectation that this energy will play a bigger role in Japan's energy supply in a long run. New energy is attracting high expectations for its potential to revitalize the economy and create jobs by triggering technological development and creating new markets.

"New energy" has somewhat of a unique definition in Japan, meaning natural energy sources such as solar and wind power, "recycled" energy such as refuse-derived fuel (RDF), and new ways to utilize conventional energy, such as fuel cells and co-generation using natural gas.

In terms of policy, "new energy" is defined here as 'forms of energy needed to replace oil, that are reaching the commercialization phase from technological standpoint, but have not yet become widely used due to economic factors.' This definition excludes hydro power, which is already in commercial operation, and wave power generation, which is still in the research and development phase, although both are natural or renewable energy sources.

The Guidelines specifically aim for the introduction of 19.1 million kiloliters of new energy production by 2010, by promoting photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind, biomass, fuel cell, and RDF power generation, among other kinds of energy.

The next issue of the JFS newsletter will cover the current situation and activities in the field of renewable energy in Japan.

Data Sources: All data in this JFS article on energy are from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, and the Energy Conservation Center.