Reactor halt ups costs by ¥3.8 trillion

Kyodo, JIJI

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has estimated that the suspension of nuclear power plants may boost utilities’ costs to generate electricity by ¥3.8 trillion this fiscal year, officials said.

The extra fuel costs for thermal power in the year to next March will be higher than the ¥3.1 trillion in fiscal 2012 due to the yen’s depreciation, which increases import costs.

With the utilities expected to pass the increase on to consumers in the form of higher electricity charges, METI has urged them to cut costs further.

Only two of the nation’s 50 commercial reactors are now in operation in response to the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

In making its estimate, METI assumed an operating rate for nuclear plants in fiscal 2013 of 3.8 percent, unchanged from the previous year.

The officials said a panel of experts has drafted a report estimating that power generation capacity will exceed demand in all regions above the 3 percent threshold for a stable supply.

But the draft report urges the government to still call for power savings this summer, warning that any trouble could cause a supply shortage.

Last summer, the customers of two power companies were asked to cut their peak-time consumption by at least 10 percent due to the risk of serious shortages.

If the two Kansai Electric Power Co. reactors online in Fukui Prefecture are shut down, the company’s supply capacity would fall an estimated 12.5 percent short of demand. But Kepco is expected to cover the shortfall with supply from other utilities.

The expert panel, chaired by Takao Kashiwagi, a specially designated professor at Tokyo Institute of Technology, will finalize the report next week.

The government will soon work out measures to improve the electricity supply situation.

The government is not expected to set any numerical power-saving targets this summer.

All of the nation’s nuclear power plants were gradually taken out of operation after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to three reactor core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex.