E&E reporter Northey previews LNG, nuclear coverage

As Japan crafts its energy and climate strategies following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, critical questions remain about the direction of the country's energy policy. E&E Publishing reporter Hannah Northey will be reporting from Japan beginning next week. On today's The Cutting Edge, Northey previews her coverage of the challenges surrounding liquefied natural gas, nuclear and coal development in the country.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to The Cutting Edge. As Japan carefully crafts its climate and energy strategies following the Fukushima nuclear incident, key questions remain about the future of its energy policy. E&E's Hannah Northey will be reporting from Japan starting next week. Hannah, exciting trip planned. You are one of five journalists that are part of a fellowship through the International Center for Journalists. What interested you about this opportunity?

Hannah Northey: Well, Japan was fascinating on a number of fronts, the energy issues being most relevant. I've covered the U.S. electric grid and U.S. reactors for a number of years here at E&E, and Japan is definitely in a position right now that really shows both the importance and the vulnerability of those kinds of systems, so I mean, it was just a really great opportunity and, you know, Japan is right now still healing from the events of 2011. A magnitude-9 earthquake hit the country's northeastern shore and three reactors there melted down. It was earthquake-tsunami, and I mean, the country is considering the restart of about 50 reactors, it's triggered widespread debates here in the United States and obviously in Japan about how, what, you know, how safe is safe enough. And the country is also at the very forefront of considering larger changes to its electricity markets. You know, are we going to have more competition? Demand response, a smarter grid. So all of those issues really hit home with me as a reporter. And lastly, obviously the LNG debate. It's really hot on Capitol Hill, and whatever happens in Japan in their energy landscape, that's going to affect the appetite for our natural gas.

Monica Trauzzi: Right. And so in the U.S., lawmakers and regulators, they're laser-focused on this issue of LNG exports, and Japan could potentially serve as a key market for the United States. How are you going to be digging into the sort of window of opportunity that exists for both countries?

Hannah Northey: That's right. Analysts expect Japan to be our No. 1 buyer, the No. 1 buyer of U.S. LNG. And, as you know, there's a boom right now in the United States in gas production, but still there are a lot of different questions out there about what is going to affect the appetite in Asia. One of the factors, first of all, here domestically, debates over how fast the United States is moving with environmental and regulatory reviews, but the bigger question that analysts look at is, you know, what's going to happen with new sources coming online. They've pointed to Australia, they've pointed to East Africa, countries like Mozambique, and there, you know, there's also this deal that Russia and China have signed. So I'm going to look into those issues. I have an interview with Toshi Okuya. He's an official who is advising the government right now on their energy plan that was recently crafted and approved, and so it's going to be really interesting to ask those questions.

Monica Trauzzi: Japan, of course, is trying to diversify its energy portfolio on the heels of the Fukushima incident, and you're going to have this amazing opportunity to speak with the former prime minister, who was at the helm during the incident. What will be the focus of that conversation?

Hannah Northey: Right. I have a great opportunity to interview former Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and what I hope to do with the interview is just really, first, focus in on his, you know, what is he, what did he think of his own leadership during that crisis in 2011. That's been fodder for a lot of debate recently. One researcher found that he actually saved Japan, that things could have been much worse. Other people have been more critical, so I want to ask him his own viewpoints on that. Secondly, I want to ask him, you know, what he thinks of Japan's new regulator. There's a new regulator that was formed, the NRA, that's overseeing the restart of these reactors across the country. I want to ask him, you know, do you think that these are, the standards that they're setting, are they strict enough, are these safe enough. And, you know, it's really, it will be really interesting to get his insight. He was a prime minister who actually, while sitting, changed his views on nuclear power. He went from supporting the energy source to being skeptical of it, so he's going to have some great insight and, for course, I want to ask him about renewables too. He pushed through standards before stepping down, and now, you know, solar in Tokyo, for example, is blossoming under generous feed-in tariffs.

Monica Trauzzi: And nuclear remains a component of their energy mix in Japan, so how are you going to explore sort of all the dynamics of what's happening on nuclear?

Hannah Northey: Right. So nuclear power is very, a deeply divisive issue right now in the country. Proponents point to nuclear power as they do in the United States as baseload carbon-free power and it's needed to tackle climate change. On the other hand, what happened at Fukushima is still, has still very much jarred the country, and some people say it's not safe and it cannot be made safe enough. What I'm going to do to kind of wrap my hands around this issue is look at one particular plant. I'm going to the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plants, the largest plant in the world with seven reactors. That's actually situated on the Sea of Japan on Japan's west coast. So I'll tour the facility there and talk to the governor of Niigata and, you know, explore what people think of nuclear power, what do they think, how do they feel about these reactors restarting.

Monica Trauzzi: And I know you'll also be covering coal. We'll look forward to reading that coverage. Hannah, thank you for coming on the show.

Hannah Northey: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And look forward to reading your coverage starting in August ...

Hannah Northey: That's right.

Monica Trauzzi: ... in our publications.

Hannah Northey: Yep.

Monica Trauzzi: Wonderful.

Hannah Northey: Thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: More Cutting Edge coming on July 11th, following our holiday recess.

[End of Audio]



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