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Japan LNG Imports Peak on Receiving-Capacity Bottleneck

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TOKYO - Japan's imports of liquefied natural gas may have peaked as its LNG-receiving terminals are operating at full capacity to meet rising demand for the clean-burning fossil fuel, while most of the country's nuclear power plants remain offline, data from the government showed Wednesday. 

LNG imports in January rose one percent on year to 8.2 million metric tonnes, the highest-ever level for a month, Ministry of Finance data showed. The imports were nearly flat year-on-year despite much colder than normal weather this winter. 

Tokyo Electric Power, Japan's largest power utility by sales volume and the owner of the tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has been running its LNG-receiving facilities near maximum capacity, said Toshiaki Koizumi, its Fuel Department General Manager, Wednesday. 

"This is what we can do best. If we need to generate more electricity, we'll use coal and oil," Mr. Koizumi added. 

The company, also called Tepco, is the world second-largest LNG buyer by volume after Korea Electric Power Corp. 

"If Japan wants to increase its LNG imports further, it has to build a few more receiving terminals," said Yuji Fukuda, president of Itochu's Energy & Chemical operations. 

After a massive earthquake triggered a tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, the world's worst nuclear accident for over two decades, Japanese power utilities kept their reactors offline after regular maintenance. Currently, 48 of the country's 50 reactors are idle

To make up for lost capacity, the utilities have run their thermal power stations at high levels. They favor LNG because it produces less carbon dioxide than coal and is less costly than oil. 

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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