Japan, the world’s leading importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG), set a record for using LNG to generate electricity during the first five months of the year in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami, which disabled nuclear facilities in the country, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported.

On average, Japan’s electric power companies used more than 6 Bcf/d to produce electricity during the January-May period, up from less than 5 Bcf/d during the comparable period in 2010, the agency said.

Japan’s demand for LNG increased significantly following the March 11 Tohoku earthquake and accompanying tsunami, which led to explosions and leaks at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and subsequent outages at other nuclear plants. The Fukushima plant was severely damaged during the March disaster and is not expected to reopen.

Only 19 of Japan’s 54 commercial nuclear facilities — or fewer than 16 gigawatts (GW) out of a total commercial nuclear fleet of about 49 GW — are currently in operation, according to the EIA. As a result, it said LNG consumption at power companies was up 30% in May compared to May 2010.

Overall imports of LNG in Japan have been trending up since 2003, the EIA noted. As of April, Japan’s total LNG imports accounted for more than 10 Bcf/d of natural gas supply, most of which is used to power generation, the agency said.

And Japan is willing to pay a higher price for LNG, making it a more attractive market than the United States for imports. The average price paid for LNG in Japan now exceeds $13/MMBtu, or about three times the current price of natural gas at the Henry Hub, the EIA said.

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