Japan mulls gas pipeline from Russian far east

Japan is considering a $5.0 billion pipeline stretching from Russia's far east to an industrial hub near Tokyo, as it eyes new energy supplies following the Fukushima crisis, a major utility said Monday.

The proposed 1,400 kilometre (870-mile) offshore pipeline would start in Russia's Sakhalin island and trace a course south along the Pacific coastline to near Japan's capital, according to a spokesman for Tokyo Gas.

The firm is among a group of companies including Japan Petroleum Exploration and Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal studying the feasibility of the project.

The move comes as resource-poor Japan has struck out in search of new energy supplies after it shut down its stable of nuclear reactors in the wake of last year's tsunami-sparked nuclear crisis, the worst in a generation.

Energy costs have shot up as Japan has turned to pricey fossil-fuel alternatives. All but two of the country's 50 atomic reactors remain shuttered as anti-nuclear sentiment remains strong following the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March last year.

"The pipeline idea has come about as one possibility in our continued efforts to diversify sources of crude materials," the Tokyo Gas spokesman said Monday, responding to a weekend Japanese media report.

"That idea was discussed at our internal study group."

Construction of the pipeline, if approved, would take between five and seven years and cost as much as 400 billion yen ($5 billion), the Asahi Shimbun reported, adding that it would reduce the cost of gas imported by ship.

Japanese firms shunned the idea about a decade ago, when it was floated by natural gas producers including ExxonMobil, but last year's accident has firms scrambling for alternate energy sources, the Asahi said.

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