Broader Panama Canal set to help energy-hungry Japan


The reopening next April of a wider Panama Canal is expected to help shape Japan’s post-3/11 energy policy. With all reactors offline after the shattering of the nuclear safety myth, imports of liquefied natural gas are growing so thermal power can offset the total loss of atomic power.

The expansion has a year-end deadline and is 87.5 percent complete. Once finished, super-wide LNG tankers will be able to sail through it to deliver LNG from the U.S. East Coast more quickly.

After gates and valves used to adjust the canal’s water levels undergo final checks, the widened canal will be ready to open on April 1, 2016, according to Manuel Benitez, deputy administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, an autonomous body of the Panamanian government responsible for the canal’s operations and management.

There is “no doubt” Japan and Japanese firms will be able to take advantage of the canal for “better prices for commodities like LNG,” Benitez said in a recent interview.

The expansion will offer Japan and other East Asian countries “another source of energy from the Gulf of Mexico” for “very competitive prices,” he said.

Japan plans to start full-scale LNG imports from the East Coast in 2017. Supertankers from North America usually go around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa to get to Japan, but the wider canal will shorten that trip by 25 days. Some fear that new charges for using it, however, will offset the savings.