Japan Faces Power Outages, Residents Urged To Conserve Energy
May 20, 2012

Japan Faces Power Outages, Residents Urged To Conserve Energy

A Japanese government panel warned that there could be power outages this summer if three Japanese utilities do not get much needed energy from nuclear reactors that have been on shutdown since the Fukushima crisis more than a year ago.

Of the three, Kansai Electric Power Co. could face the biggest shortage of 14.9 percent, as it is the most reliant on nuclear power, the panel reported on May 12.

In face of the potential power shortages, Japan is urging businesses and residences to cut electricity use by up to 15 percent to avoid the possibility of blackouts. City officials are also dimming passageways of railway stations to conserve energy.

All 50 nuclear reactors in Japan have been on shutdown and have been undergoing regular safety checks since the Fukushima disaster in March last year. Now, a local assembly in one Japanese town has agreed that it is necessary to restart at least two reactors to keep power running. But further discussion lies ahead before two reactors at Kansai Electric Power Co´s Ohi plant in western Japan can be reconnected to the grid.

The Fukushima power plant meltdown, triggered by last year´s earthquake and tsunami, has weakened the public´s confidence in nuclear safety. Based on the panel´s conclusions, the government will decide on what power-saving measures are needed -- rolling blackouts being a major possibility.

The call for electricity reduction will take effect from July to September. While electricity cuts in Japan℠s eastern region last year after the nuclear crisis were made mandatory, the government is stating the latest call to save power won´t be obligatory there. It is in the heavily industrialized area of western Japan, served by Kansai Electric Power, that customers are being asked to cut electricity usage.

There is a great “need to widely instigate power-saving measures” due to the shutdown of nuclear facilities, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, after meeting with the government discussing the possibilities of power shortages.

“The government will try hard to figure out how to implement the measures decided today so that the power savings will affect the economy and people's livelihood as little as possible,” he told BBC News. “But I would like to repeat here our appeal to the nation to save power this summer.”

The government may ask western prefectures supplied by Chubu Electric Power, Hokuriku Electric Power, Chugoku Electric Power and Shikoku Electric Power to reduce power consumption by 5 percent, according to a report by the Yomiuri newspaper on May 12.

Saved electricity may be supplied to the Kansai region, it said, saving the region from economically disastrous power shortages. Kansai accounts for about a fifth of Japan´s economy.

Even if power shortages during peak summer hours can be averted, increased use of thermal power plants would put a major strain on Japan´s national wealth, the government panel noted.

Fuel costs at nine regional utilities that operate nuclear power could rise to as much $88 billion dollars in the year ending March 2013. That´s a 16 percent increase from a year earlier, and almost double the fuel costs from the year ending March 2011, said the report.

The rising costs could mean that households share the burden by paying higher electricity costs. Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco, submitted a request to the trade and industry ministry on May 11 to raise electricity rates for households by an average of 10.28 percent from July.

Tepco and the owner of the Fukushima plant, posted on Monday an annual loss of almost $10 billion as compensation claims for the nuclear disaster soar and fuel costs grew after shutting down all its plants.

Before the Fukushima disaster, nuclear energy powered up to 30 percent of the country´s electricity. The government is working on an energy mix policy it hopes to unveil this summer, replacing a program that had aimed to boost the share of atomic power to more than 50 percent by 2030.