Doubt in Kansai grows over plant restarts, blackout predictions

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Distrust of the central government’s conclusion that the Oi No. 3 and No. 4 reactors are safe to restart and doubts over Kansai Electric Power Co.’s predictions of possible blackouts without them have grown in Kansai this week.

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada and Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, who oppose an immediate restart of the reactors in neighboring Fukui Prefecture upped the political stakes Tuesday, calling on Tokyo to strengthen security and disaster response measures with local governments that lie within a planned 30-km-radius Urgent Protective Action Planning Zone, where residents would be asked to prepare for evacuation depending on the situation in the case of a severe accident. “Some 68,000 people live within 30 km of the Oi reactors, and Lake Biwa, the water source for 14.5 million people, also sits within this zone. If there is an accident at the Oi plant, our two prefectures will also suffer damage,” Yamada and Kada said in a joint statement.

Pressure over the past few days from those who want the Oi reactors to restart has been growing. On Monday, Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Yoshito Sengoku told an audience in Nagoya that a total halt of all reactors would be akin to “mass suicide.”

On Tuesday, industry minister Yukio Edano said he couldn’t deny that scheduled blackouts might be necessary in the Kansai region this summer if the Oi reactors remain offline.

Earlier this year, Kansai Electric Power Co. said the region faces a 25 percent electricity shortage this summer without the Oi reactors, and that there would likely be a rate hike because of the need to finance increasing amount of fuel for thermal power generation.

The projected shortage was recently revised downward to a maximum of 18.4 percent during the peak summer period. But Kepco’s projection, and the central government’s willingness to believe this projection without question, has drawn criticism from antinuclear activists and advocates of renewable energy as well as from Yamada, Kada and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto.

In a list of proposals to the central government, Kyoto and Shiga prefectures also call for an independent committee to determine whether power shortages would actually result if the nation’s nuclear plants remain shut down. “It’s necessary to create a third party of experts, who can check electricity supply and demand in a fair manner, not just make a decision based solely on information provided by the utilities,” the two governors said.

Hashimoto’s distrust of Kepco and the DPJ’s handling of the restart of the Oi reactors runs even deeper. At his request, a joint Osaka prefectural-municipal energy strategy committee of outside experts, including renewable energy experts, has been investigating Kepco’s management structure since February.

Last week, Kepco officials admitted to committee members that 69 former central and local government officials had taken postretirement positions with Kepco subsidiaries and affiliated companies as of March 31.

In addition, Kepco reported that in fiscal 2010 it provided nearly ¥1.7 billion in donations to 600 different local governments, including towns in Fukui Prefecture hosting nuclear power plants, as well as public service corporations and other groups.

On Tuesday, Kepco’s dire predictions of shortages this summer without the Oi reactors were disputed by one of the committee members, who said that with the restart of coal and hydroelectric plants, along with conservation measures, there will be enough electricity. Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy Policies and a special advisor to the committee, said the first flaw in Kepco’s prediction was that it assumed the situation this summer will be the same as summer 2010.

“To make predictions of electricity demand based on usage during summer 2010, before the Fukushima meltdowns and the institution of any electricity saving measures, is a mistake,” Iida said.