JAPAN EXTRACTS NATURAL GAS FROM FROZEN METHANE HYDRATE
Japan announced that it successfully extracted natural gas from frozen methane hydrate, a world first. The gas field, off Japan's central coast, could provide an alternative energy source for a nation that imports all of its fuel needs. The supply of methane gas could be enormous, but extraction raises environmental concerns as the geology containing it is unstable in some places. Production tests will continue for the next few weeks, but government officials have said they plan to establish technologies for practical use within the next five years. Meanwhile, high utility bills continue to damage Japan's economic recovery efforts as the nation enters its third year of nuclear shutdown. Though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed plans to restart the country's nuclear industry, Japan's nuclear watchdog said that it will take as long as three years under its safety guidelines. Nuclear power was producing 30 percent of the nation's electricity at the time of the Fukushima disaster, and anti-nuclear backlash has shuttered all but two reactors, causing Japan's fuel import bill to skyrocket. The Institute of Energy Economics calculated that getting half the reactors online would save around $18.8 billion, but the CEO of a Tokyo-based consulting firm indicated that the "resistance among the population is substantial." For the full story, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-21752441. For the story on Japan's nuclear shutdown, see http://uk.reuters.com/article/2013/03/14/us-japan-fuel-costs-idUKBRE92D05E20130314.