Japan has 54 nuclear energy reactors -- only two of which are running at the moment and both of which are scheduled for regular check ups and will shut down either late this month or in early May 2012. As regular maintenance has required shutting down plant after plant, none of Japan's governors has allowed the nuclear energy plants to be returned to operation.
On top of the post-Fukushima nuclear plant disaster, global tensions with Iran are threatening Japan's dependence on Iranian oil exports, which Japan's share amounts to about 300,000 barrels a day.
This makes Japan's current potential daily energy deficit about 800,000 barrels per day.
Tanaka, who after leaving the International Energy Agency is biding his time now as Global Associate for Energy Security and Sustainability at Japan's Institute of Energy Economics, acknowledges that the Saudis have offered Japan, Europe and others who are jittery about the growing tensions with Iran more of its own domestic capacity, which most put at about 2 million barrels a day. Tanaka says the problem is that that's just not enough to manage global shortfalls if there is a strike on Iran and oil flows are interrupted -- and he believes that the Saudis will favor European needs over Japan's.
On top of the gloom about nuclear energy supply doldrums in Japan, the hard consequences of tensions with Iran, there is a third area of concern Tanaka has: the weather. He said that if Japan has a very hot summer -- which some are projecting -- Japan will run another 10% short of supplies on top of the shortages it already projects.
But even all this is not the end of the squeeze.
Japan's other partial energy option is the importation of liquified natural gas (LNG) -- which it imports from Malaysia, Brunei, Qatar, UAE, Indonesia and Australia. Japan needs to further boost imports if it can but prices for LNG are surging. The combined energy deficit Japan is facing would require a net increase, according to Tanaka, of LNG and oil that would run about $40 billion a year -- wiping out completely Japan's trade surpluses and more.
In meetings hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies this past week, Nobuo Tanaka made an appeal for the US to export some of its cheap LNG supply to Japan. The price of LNG in Japan is currently four times the price in the United States.
However, House of Representatives Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward Markey has over the last several months been agitating in speeches and correspondence with Energy Secretary for the US to restrict LNG exports -- thus keeping prices low in the United States and leaving key strategic allies like Japan vulnerable to surging global LNG prices and to the geostrategic flirtations from Russia. Tanaka said that with Russia, about which the US has increasing concerns about its mercantilist global energy behavior, Japan may be forced to build new grid and pipeline infrastructure with Russia given the cold shoulder the US is thus far showing Japan.