Nuclear alternative fuels accounted for 40% of Japan's trade deficit

Japan recorded trade deficit in 2011 for the first time since 1980 because of decreased exports and higher energy costs. Addition spending for fossil fuels to make up for the nuclear power shortage also boosted import amount.

The spending to replace shut-down nuclear power plants seemed to account for 40% of Japan's entire trade deficit of 2.5 trillion yen ($32 billion) last year.

Japan's total crude oil imports in 2011 fell 2.7% from a year ago to 3.6 million barrels per day, according to the Ministry of Finance. Sluggish industrial activities depressed petroleum demand.

Crude oil imports from Southeast Asia, however, increased 52.7% on year to 190,000 bpd. Strong demand for low-sulfur crude oil for thermal power generation lifted imports.

Imports of liquefied natural gas, which is known as the main fuel for thermal power generation in Japan, also increased 12.2% from a year ago to the record 78.5 million tonnes.

In 2011, regional ten major electric power suppliers purchased 8.2 million tonnes of more liquefied natural gas than the previous year and bought 140,000 bpd of more petroleum compared with the previous year, according to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.

These fuels were estimated to cost about 980 billion yen ($12.5 billion).

Meanwhile, Japan's electricity supply fell 4.7% on year in 2011. It means the addition fossil fuel purchase was purely for nuclear power replacement.

Nuclear power had supplied 21-25 billion kWh per month of electricity in Japan before the heavy earthquake in March 2011. But the major accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has been making government hesitate to approve nuclear power units to restart after regular maintenance.

Only 4 of total 54 Japanese nuclear power units are operated now and those four units are also scheduled to be shut for maintenance in a couple of months.

Further spending for fossil fuels import is expected this year because no one knows when nuclear power plants will resume operations. Meanwhile, export volume may shrink further as limited generation capacity forces Japanese companies to reduce electricity use for their operations.

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