Kepco faces demand to exit nuclear power

Energy strategy body tells Osaka to put case to investors in June

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The city of Osaka should issue a demand at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s June shareholders’ meeting that the utility get out of the nuclear power business and rely instead on renewable energy sources, a joint prefectural-municipal committee has recommended.

The proposal made Sunday by the joint energy strategy panel came a few days after the mayors of Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe were told by Kepco that nuclear power would remain an important energy resource. The mayors had called on the utility to provide a clear timetable for weaning itself from nuclear power.

Kepco, which has 11 reactors, all on the Sea of Japan coast in Fukui Prefecture and all currently idled, relied on them to generate about 44 percent of Kansai’s electricity. The mayors have urged the utility to switch to liquefied natural gas and renewable sources.

The energy committee offered eight basic reform proposals that will be decided next month by the city assembly, where Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) is the largest group. The city also owns about 9 percent of Kepco’s stock, making it the largest shareholder.

In addition to shutting down all of its nuclear plants and introducing renewable energy sources, the committee recommended that Kepco be forced to take stronger disaster-prevention measures at its atomic plants, and called for competition in the electricity distribution sector.

“It’s necessary to eradicate the distrust Japanese people have toward nuclear power,” the committee said in a statement.

Since becoming mayor last November, Hashimoto has said he would use the June shareholders’ meeting to introduce a resolution that would obligate Kepco to reduce its reliance on nuclear power and switch to renewables. But the energy strategy committee’s recommendation marks the first time municipal and prefectural officials have called on Kepco to abolish its reactors.

However, no timetable was offered for achieving this goal. Kepco’s reactors are currently shut down, however, pending the results of regular checks and obligatory stress tests to ensure they can survive a disaster.

Pressure on Kepco to end its dependence on nuclear power continues to grow. In early February, a citizens’ group collected enough signatures to force a city vote on whether to hold a plebiscite on nuclear power, although the city is expected to reject that approach later this month or early next month because many supporters of the drive are seen as political opponents of Hashimoto and his group.

At the same time, however, Hashimoto, along with Kyoto Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa and Kobe Mayor Tatsuo Yada, demanded the utility produce a detailed timetable for shifting from nuclear power to LNG and renewable energies.

“In the event of an accident, it’s clear that, with Kepco’s 11 reactors, there will be a huge impact on lives and the economy. It’s necessary to (create) an electricity supply (strategy) that does not rely on nuclear power as soon as possible,” the three mayors said in a joint statement submitted to Kepco in late February.

But in its formal reply last week, Kepco defended the use of nuclear and offered only general assurances it was introducing more renewable energy plants.

“From the standpoint of energy security, economic feasibility and environmental conservation, nuclear power will continue to remain important,” Kepco said.