As Tokyo begins to swelter in the summer heat, the government and industries are stepping up efforts to avert major power shortages in the Kanto region centering on the bustling capital.
The concern about power shortfalls has emerged since Tokyo Electric Power Co. shut down all 17 of its nuclear reactors in Niigata and Fukushima prefectures in April for safety checks following revelations last August that the utility falsified safety reports to cover up faults.
Of the 17, the No. 6 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture was restarted in May, and the No. 7 reactor was restarted Wednesday. But the remaining 15 are still offline.
Since nuclear power accounts for over 40 percent of Tepco’s electricity output, the shutdown poses a serious threat to Kanto’s power supply before the scorching summer heat arrives.
Tepco believes the largest demand for electricity consumption will reach 64.5 mw if this summer is hotter than usual.
But Tepco is at risk of running short of 3.8 to 4.4 mw of electricity even by boosting output at its thermal power plants and receiving electricity from other utilities.
The No. 7 reactor alone will add only 1.36 mw, so Tepco needs to reactivate more to fill the gap.
The Tokyo metropolitan area was hit by a major power outage on July 23, 1987. The blackout disrupted train services and nearly 3,000 police officers were mobilized to control traffic at intersections without working signals.
But the event taught the metropolitan area many important lessons. East Japan Railway Co. is now equipped with its own thermal and hydraulic power plants that can provide 80 percent of the electricity for its train services, including the shinkansen.
Most major hospitals in Tokyo have their own generators and a large bank installed a big generator for its host computers so that its automated teller machines will work normally during a blackout.
Compared with 16 years ago, the chance of a major power outage in Tokyo is considered low because the metropolitan area is now designed to be the last place to lose power as Tepco shuts down power supply in other areas first in case of a drop in voltage.
Still, not all industries or people are well-prepared for power shortages, and therefore Tepco and the government are eager to restart the halted reactors.
Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Takeo Hiranuma visited two municipalities in Niigata Prefecture on June 6 to offer his apology over the lax handling of Tepco’s coverup and pledged to do his best to ensure the safety of nuclear reactors there.
His first-ever visit to municipalities hosting Tepco reactors in Niigata Prefecture since the scandal broke shows the government desperately wants to win the approval of local governments and citizens on restarting the other reactors.
But it is unclear whether Tepco will be able to restart other reactors because some local residents voiced concern about the safety of the facilities in a meeting with Hiranuma in Kashiwazaki.
Fukushima Gov. Eisaku Sato is also wary about an early restart of reactors even though the prefectural assembly and the majority of local residents have approved the moves.
But Takashi Kusano, mayor of the town of Naraha — one of two towns hosting Tepco nuclear plants in the prefecture — called on Sato to get the halted reactors restarted.
“About 1,000 townspeople have Tepco-related jobs,” Kusano said. “You should make a decision as early as possible to ensure employment.”
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has continued energy-saving campaigns, including drastically curtailing the use of elevators at its headquarters and turning off air conditioners and lights.
Concerns about power shortages have also prompted many companies to make preparations.
Toshiba Corp. plans to shift some weekday operations at its plant in Yokohama to Saturday and Sunday by taking advantage of smaller demand for electricity on the weekends.
Kobe Steel Ltd. also plans to operate a plant in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, on weekends while stopping operations on two weekdays.
Nissan Motor Co. drew up a manual to respond to power shortages specifying how it would stop using electricity from sectors considered less directly linked with production when power shortages seem imminent.
Breweries and beverage companies are also planning various ways to survive a possible power crisis.
Kirin Brewery Co. is preparing to shift output in the Kanto region to other factories outside to guarantee its production lines run smoothly.
Asahi Breweries Ltd., Taisho Pharmaceutical Co. and Ajinomoto Co. are also thinking about shifting production lines or boosting inventories to ensure a stable supply of their products.
So far, it is unknown how many reactors Tepco will be able to restart by the middle of summer.
Sony Corp. said it wants to know as soon as possible when, where and to what extent power outages will occur.
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