Country Listing

Japan Table of Contents



Japan lacks significant domestic sources of energy except coal and must import substantial amounts of crude oil, natural gas, and other energy resources, including uranium. In 1990 the country's dependence on imports for primary energy stood at more than 84 percent. Its rapid industrial growth since the end of World War II had doubled energy consumption every five years. The use of power had also changed qualitatively. In 1950 coal supplied half of Japan's energy needs, hydroelectricity one-third, and oil the rest. In 1988 oil provided Japan with 57.3 percent of energy needs, coal 18.1 percent, natural gas 10.1 percent, nuclear power 9.0 percent, hydroelectic power 4.6 percent, geothermal power 0.1 percent, and 1.3 percent came from other sources (see table 20, Appendix). During the 1960-72 period of accelerated growth, energy consumption grew much faster than GNP, doubling Japan's consumption of world energy. By 1976, with only 3 percent of the world's population, Japan was consuming 6 percent of global energy supplies.

After the two oil crises of the 1970s, the pattern of energy consumption in Japan changed from heavy dependence on oil to some diversification to other forms of energy resources. Japan's domestic oil consumption dropped slightly, from around 5.1 million barrels of oil per day in the late 1970s to 4.9 million barrels per day in 1990. While the country's use of oil is declining, its consumption of nuclear power and LNG has risen substantially. Because domestic natural gas production is minimal, rising demand is met by greater imports. Japan's main LNG suppliers in 1987 were Indonesia (51.3 percent), Malaysia (20.4 percent), Brunei (17.8 percent), Abu Dhabi (7.3 percent), and the United States (3.2 percent). Several Japanese industries, including electric power companies and steelmakers, switched from petroleum to coal, most of which is imported.

In 1990, the latest year for which complete statistics were available, Japan's total energy requirements were tabulated at 428.2 million tons of petroleum equivalent. Of this total, 84 percent was imported. Consumption totaled 298 million tons: 46.7 percent of which was used by industry; 23.3 percent by the transportation sector; 26.6 percent for agricultural, residential, services, and other uses; and 3.3 percent for non-energy uses, such as lubricating oil or asphalt.

In 1989 Japan was the world's third largest producer of electricity. Most of the more than 3,300 power plants were thermoelectric. About 75 percent of the available power was controlled by the ten major regional power utilities, of which Tokyo Electric Power Company was the world's largest. Electricity rates in Japan were among the world's highest.

The Japanese were working to increase the availability of nuclear power in 1985. Although Japan was a late starter in this field, it finally imported technology from the United States and obtained uranium from Canada, France, South Africa, and Australia. By 1991 the country had forty-two nuclear reactors in operation, with a total generating capacity of approximately 33 million kilowatts. The ratio of nuclear power generation to total electricity production increased from 2 percent in 1973 to 23.6 percent in 1990.

During the 1980s, Japan's nuclear power program was strongly opposed by environmental groups, particularly after the Three Mile Island accident in the United States. Other problems for the program were the rising costs of nuclear reactors and fuel, the huge investments necessary for fuel enrichment and reprocessing plants, reactor failures, and nuclear waste disposal. Nevertheless, Japan continued to build nuclear power plants. Of alternative energy sources, Japan has effectively exploited only geothermal energy. The country had six geothermal power stations with a combined capacity of 133,000 kilowatts per hour in 1989.

Data as of January 1994