Utility eyes LNG for Hamaoka decision


Chubu Electric Power Co. was planning to hold another extraordinary board meeting Monday to determine the fate of its controversial Hamaoka nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture as its chairman flew to the Middle East to shop for LNG.

The power plant, which was built close to a known fault line, was urged to close Friday by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who is concerned another catastrophic quake — the widely feared “big one” — could produce another nuclear disaster south of Tokyo.

After an inconclusive board meeting Saturday, Toshio Mita, chairman of the utility, which serves the central Chubu region around Nagoya, departed for Qatar to procure supplies of liquefied natural gas to run its thermal power plants, officials said.

In the meantime, other officials continued brainstorming ways to keep power supply stable this summer if the utility decides to grant the request, they said. The prime minister’s request is not legally binding.

On Sunday, Kan urged the company to cooperate and emphasized that he had no intention of pursuing the suspension of any other nuclear power plant aside from Hamaoka.

At issue is whether Chubu Electric can secure enough generation capacity for the summer by rebooting its suspended thermal power plants, and whether it can procure enough fuel to do it at a time when Tokyo Electric Power Co., the nation’s biggest utility, is trying to do the very same thing to deal with the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Mita will meet with Qatari Energy and Industry Minister Mohammed Saleh Al-Sada and the president of the state-run LNG company Qatargas about the utility’s needs, officials said.

The utility is also examining if it can be held responsible by shareholders if its earnings suffer after accepting the government’s request, which is not enforceable under current law, the officials said. While refusing the highly publicized request appears difficult, some within the company have objections, they said.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku separately defended Kan’s request by emphasizing the high likelihood of the Hamaoka plant being hit by the powerful quake, which is expected to strike within 30 years, and questioning its preparedness for an earthquake or tsunami. “The likelihood of a quake measuring intensity 6 (on the Japanese seismic scale of 7), or bigger, in the area of the Hamaoka plant within 30 years is higher than 80 percent. Other nuclear plants are less than 10 percent likely, with most less than 1 percent,” Sengoku said.