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EDITORIAL | Japan, EU Should Move to Lessen Dependence on Russia for Natural Gas

Russia is controlling its liquefied natural gas supply for political ends. It becomes imperative for Japan and Europe to pursue safe nuclear and other energy sources.



An employee walks at a gas metering station near Berehove, Ukraine, October 7, 2021. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich/File Photo

In response to a request from the United States related to the increasingly tense situation in Ukraine, the Japanese government has opted to provide a portion of its liquefied natural gas (LNG) reserves to European countries that are supplied with natural gas from Russia.

As bitter cold winter weather continues, concerns have arisen that Japan could face another year of tight supply and demand for natural gas. Both public and private sectors need to carefully manage supply and demand to ensure that domestic needs can be met even when natural gas is supplied to Europe.

As Russia gathers troops at its border with Ukraine, there are growing concerns that it will invade. The United States has warned Russia that it would impose harsh sanctions in the event of an invasion, and France has launched full-scale diplomatic efforts, but the dangerous situation remains touch-and-go.

A reservist of the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces takes part in military exercises on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine January 29, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

Questionable Pipeline Plan

If sanctions against Russia are imposed, Russia could stop supplying natural gas to Europe in a countermove. 

In fact, the volume of natural gas it supplies to Europe is already decreasing. In response, US President Biden has asked Japan and other countries to divert LNG imports to Europe.

Japan’s Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Koichi Hagiuda announced the government’s intention to divert a portion of Japan’s natural gas to supply Europe, including several hundred thousand tons in March, using Japanese companies. While domestic concerns over tight supply and demand make it difficult to divert large amounts of LNG, the administration aims to do what it can to aid the plight of Europe, which shares the values of freedom and democracy.

Meanwhile, questions remain on Europe’s stance on energy security. Aiming to lead the world in the decarbonization effort, Europe, led by Germany, is rushing to expand renewable energies.

Germany has expanded use of renewable energy sources, such as wind power, to account for nearly half of its total power supply. The amount of electricity generated by renewable energy sources, which are dependent on nature, fluctuates considerably, depending on the weather. For this reason, gas-fired power generation is needed as a regulated power supply, and most of this fuel is natural gas produced in Russia.

Reliance on Russian LNG

Russian-produced LNG accounts for 30% to 40% of the natural gas consumed by Europe, and this percentage reaches 60% looking at Germany alone.

In this context, Germany’s plan to build a new gas pipeline between itself and Russia to further increase procurement of Russian natural gas is also questionable.

Dependence on a supply from Russia has put Germany in a dangerous predicament, with the stable procurement of energy on increasingly shaky ground.

Germany shut down three of its six nuclear power plants at the end of 2021, and plans to shut down the remaining three by the end of 2022. 

It is all well and good for Germany to promote the expansion of renewable energies and phase out nuclear power. But undermining its own energy security by increasing its dependence on Russia for natural gas and then asking for support from its allies and friends is counterproductive.

The European Commission of the European Union (EU) has recognized nuclear power and natural gas as sustainable energy sources that can lead to decarbonization. Germany is opposed to this stance and is prepared to file a suit in court. This is because it runs counter to Germany’s own policy on phasing out nuclear power. 

But Germany should be reminded that governments are responsible for ensuring the stable supply of energy. Irresponsible behavior that undermines the energy supply of Europe as a whole should not be tolerated.

Next Generation Nuclear Power HTTR

Germany’s Stance

Germany has been harshly criticized by some American newspapers for its self-defeating energy policy. It is no wonder that doubts are growing in the US Congress as to whether Germany is truly a reliable ally. Germany really should rethink its radical energy policy.

Without a stable supply of electricity and gas to protect people’s lives and industry, decarbonization is impossible. With its limited natural resources, Japan must face this harsh global reality and work to diversify its power supply mix. This will lead to the enhancement of energy security not only for Japan but also for the West as a whole.

Germany’s energy crisis is not a problem that we can ignore. Japan has made little progress in the restarting of nuclear power plants, and LNG-fired power is being used as a main power source. Imports from Russia account for 8% of our LNG imports.

Russia is commanding its supply of LNG to further its political agenda, making it imperative that we continue to diversify our supplying countries.

If we increase renewable energies in our effort to achieve decarbonization, weather-dependent fluctuations in the amount of electricity generated will also increase, and we will need power sources to adjust for this. Certain types of thermal power generation, such as LNG and coal, remain indispensable.

Unlike Europe, Japan does not have power grids and pipelines connecting us to neighboring countries on all sides. We need to once again recognize that securing a variety of power sources, including safety-proven nuclear power plants, will lead to the establishment of energy security.

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(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun