Earthquake-hit Hokkaido thermal power plant is partially restarted

Kyodo

The largest coal-fired power plant in Hokkaido restarted one of its three units Wednesday, almost two weeks after the complex was damaged by a powerful earthquake that rocked the island and triggered a prefecture-wide blackout.

The restart of the No. 1 unit at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomato-Atsuma plant, which provided about half the prefecture’s electricity, eased worries over a future power crisis following the complete power outage triggered by the Sept. 6 quake.

“The output fluctuates depending on demand but (the No. 1 unit) can now generate up to 350,000 kilowatts,” a public relations official of the utility said.

With the unit’s resumption and power generation by other facilities, the company is now able to supply about 4 million kW of electricity, enabling it to stably cover the power needs of Hokkaido for this time of year.

The central government and Hokkaido Electric have dropped their target of achieving a 20 percent cut in electricity usage from the pre-quake weekday peak demand and are now calling for general energy-saving efforts in the prefecture.

The utility had sought to restart the No. 1 unit Tuesday but postponed the operation as preparation work took longer than expected. The quake severed pipes, started a fire and caused other damage at the plant.

The company said it plans to bring the No. 2 and No. 4 units back online swiftly. Its No. 3 unit was scrapped in 2005.

When fully operational, the three-unit Tomato-Atsuma plant generates 1.65 million kW.

The latest development means Sapporo’s famous landmark in the Susukino entertainment district — the Nikka Whisky billboard — will light up again. “It will bring back liveliness,” a citizen said.

A convenience store in the city was also waiting for the thermal plant’s restart, and has been operating by turning off the lights of the beverage shelves. “We want to turn on (all) the lights as early as possible to brighten the mood inside the shop,” a staff member said.

At a park in central Sapporo, a man said, “The city I have been familiar with has been obscured. Now it will be lit up and will return to a bustling city.”

A woman who was visiting a bank in Sapporo said the prefecture-wide blackout has made her rethink her lifestyle. “We don’t have to worry about electricity supply anymore, but I always want to keep in mind the importance of power-saving.”

The Hokkaido Prefectural Government has been making efforts to cut electricity by 30 percent after the disaster and plans to maintain the target for the meantime. But a senior official indicated the need to consider sustainable measures.

“Our staff are working hard to save power. We should think about how to continue to deal with this issue,” the official said.

Subway and tram operators in Sapporo had been reducing the frequency of their services but normal operations were to resume Thursday, they said.