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Nuke plant utilization rate fell to 3.9% in 2012

JIJI

The utilization rate of nuclear power plants plunged another 19.8 percentage points in fiscal 2012 to a negligible 3.9 percent from the year before, setting a record low for the second straight year, industry data showed Friday.

It was the first time the annual rate has dipped below 10 percent since the commercial use of atomic reactors began in fiscal 1966, the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan reported.

The slide reflected the suspension of all but two reactors in view of the March 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Of the country’s 50 remaining reactors, all of which were taken offline following the Fukushima disaster, the only two approved for restarts are reactors 3 and 4 at Kansai Electric Power Co.’s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture. The two units were reactivated last July amid vehement public opposition.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority, the newly established industry watchdog, plans to start conducting checks on idled reactors to determine whether to permit them to resume operations once new safety standards take effect in July. Most units, however, are expected to remain offline for the time being.

The federation said the amount of electricity the nation’s 10 major power companies generated and purchased from wholesalers in fiscal 2012, which ended March 31, fell 1.5 percent year-on-year to 923.6 billion kwh.

The figure dropped for the second year in a row thanks to power-saving efforts by households and businesses, as well as declining demand for industrial use.

While the amount of energy generated by nuclear plants nose-dived a staggering 84.2 percent to 15.9 billion kwh, the amount churned out by thermal power stations surged 9.2 percent to 666.7 billion kwh.

Among regional utilities, Tepco saw its electricity volume rise 3.0 percent, following a sharp fall the previous year because the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami knocked out its Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Separately Friday, the Environment Ministry said Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions in fiscal 2011, which ran through March 2012, climbed 4.0 percent from the previous year to 1.308 billion tons of carbon dioxide. The rise mainly reflected the switch to thermal power generation while nuclear reactors were gradually shut down after the Fukushima meltdowns.

Compared to fiscal 1990, the base year for global emissions reduction efforts under the Kyoto Protocol, harmful gases in fiscal 2011 rose 3.7 percent. But after taking into account the absorption of carbon dioxide by forests and emission rights purchased abroad, the figure was down 4.0 percent from the base year, the ministry said.

According to the Kyoto Protocol, Japan must cut its annual emissions by 6 percent on average from the fiscal 1990 level during the fiscal 2008-2012 period. The ministry said that annual average emissions between the 2008 and 2011 fiscal years decreased some 9.2 percent from the base year.

At a news conference, Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara confidently told reporters that Japan is certain to achieve its numerical target.