Kyoto advances nuclear-free agenda with Alaska LNG pact

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The Kyoto Prefectural Government signed an agreement with Alaska last month to explore the possibility of importing liquid natural gas from the state to Maizuru, a port city on the Sea of Japan.

While daunting financial and bureaucratic challenges mean it will still be a while before Alaskan LNG flows to Kyoto, the agreement represents a step forward for Kyoto to achieve a larger goal: ending prefectural dependence on nuclear power by 2040.

The strategy, as outlined by Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada, calls for building up LNG facilities at Maizuru and installing new LNG pipelines in the Kansai region. The prefecture envisions Maizuru supplying not only Kyoto, but other prefectures in the region with gas to replace Fukui Prefecture’s nuclear power plants as a major source of electricity.

Kyoto is not alone in seeking to replace atomic power with a combination of LNG imports and renewable energy. As of the end of 2014, more than 600 local governments nationwide had declared their intent to be nuclear-free, although not all of have set specific dates like Kyoto, and many lack a strategic plan for achieving that goal.

Yamada listed several reasons why the prefecture needs to end its usage of nuclear power, which comes mostly from 11 Kansai Electric Power Co. reactors in neighboring Fukui.

“We’re grateful to Fukui for hosting nuclear power plants. But given issues like what to do with spent nuclear fuel and the need to decommission older reactors, we in Kyoto have to think about our energy future,” Yamada said in 2013, when he first announced the plan.

Just prior to the memorandum of understanding with Alaska, the governor also said that, in addition to helping the prefecture get out of nuclear power, increasing natural gas usage via the port of Maizuru would have regional benefits.

“In the event of a national disaster off the Pacific coast of Kansai, it’s possible that LNG facilities in the Osaka Bay area will be destroyed. Maizuru could then serve as a major natural gas hub,” he said.

At present, Niigata is the only prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast that has the facilities needed to serve as an LNG base. In Kansai, the ports of Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, and Himeji, Hyogo Prefecture, have LNG facilities.

Kyoto and Hyogo, along with Osaka Gas, Kepco, and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, agreed in early September to formally research the cost of building an LNG pipeline from Maizuru to Sanda, Hyogo Prefecture, that could then supply other parts of Kansai and likely lead to other localities needing less nuclear power.

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