Japan’s predicament a boon for future of energy exporters – by Brian Milner (Globe and Mail – September 18, 2014)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

This is another of an occasional series from The Globe and Mail’s Brian Milner, who visited Japan to assess the results of dramatic efforts to revitalize the world’s third-largest economy.

One commercial office building in Tokyo’s busy Uchisaiwaicho district is notable for its constant police presence. That’s because it’s the headquarters of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), provider of power to nearly 30 million people and one of Japan’s more reviled companies.

TEPCO gained its spot in the Hall of Shame over its dreadful handling of the Fukushima nuclear disaster triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami in March, 2011, as well as subsequent revelations of poor maintenance and safety flaws and anger over the slow pace of compensation. Huge anti-nuclear demonstrations followed, and the public outcry has scarcely abated. As recently as its annual meeting in June, management had to fend off activist shareholders demanding a permanent end to nuclear power.

Now, a year since the complete shutdown of the rest of Japan’s 48 reactors for safety checks, those demands have taken on new urgency. The Nuclear Regulation Authority, the government’s watchdog, has given the green light for another utility, Kyushu Electric Power Co., to restart two reactors at its Sendai plant in southwestern Japan. Other utilities are seeking the go-ahead to turn another 18 reactors back on.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe needs to get at least part of the country’s substantial nuclear capacity back on line to cut a soaring energy import tab – including hefty government subsidies – that makes Japanese industry less competitive and presents one more obstacle to his recovery strategy. Power-generating costs shot up more than 40 per cent between 2010 and 2012, and that was despite falling demand. Costs have only gone higher since then.

Efforts to reduce electricity consumption are evident everywhere. During Tokyo’s typically hot summer months, air conditioning is lowered in most buildings and shut off in lobbies and unused offices. Many office workers depart by 6 p.m., as power was cut.

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