At a time of dwindling interest in coal within the US, North American coal has found a friend in emerging Asian economies and nuclear-wary Japan.
Wednesday, the American Associated Press said US coal exports were at their highest level since 1991 as Japan increased its US coal imports by 119%.
But what about Australia?
The Australian Coal Association says Japan is our biggest coal customer accounting for 39.3% of Australia’s total black coal exports.
Sales figures for thermal and metallurgical coal exports from Australian to Japan have more than doubled over the last 10 years, and yet the numbers remain counter-intuitively static post Fukushima.
The Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics acknowledged that the March 2011 disaster would impact power generation within the country but charted no significant variations in coal imports through 2017.
The March quarterly from BREE projected thermal coal exports to Japan to top out at about 128 million tonnes in 2012, negligible movement from the 129Mt annual average.
“The immediate shutdown of some coal fired electricity generation resulted in Japan’s thermal coal imports in 2011 decreasing by an estimated 3% relative to 2010 to 125Mt,” the report stated.
“In 2012, Japan’s thermal coal imports are forecast to increase by 2% to 128Mt under the assumption that a restart of some of the damaged thermal power stations will result in increased imports.”
Likewise with metallurgical coal, BREE forecasts exports into Japan to increase only moderately despite increased steel use in the rebuilding effort.