Kansai braces for summer heat without reactors


Staff Writer

News that the Kansai region will be asked to cut summer power consumption by at least 15 percent and that plans are afoot for outright restrictions on electricity use, including rolling blackouts, was greeted calmly by area political leaders and residents.

The government and Kansai Electric Power Co. say a variety of electricity-conservation steps will be needed if reactors 3 and 4 at Kepco’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture are not restarted soon. But despite the warnings, several media opinion polls throughout Kansai have shown that up to two-thirds of residents want the reactors to remain shut down and local leaders are preparing for a long, hot summer.

The Osaka, Kyoto and Shiga governors expressed support for introducing electricity-saving measures, especially during the summer peak usage period in July and August.

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, a strong critic of the way Kepco and the central government have calculated available power for the Kansai region this summer, said Monday evening the time for analyzing numbers and data is over, and his city will cooperate in saving power with the central government and Kepco. He added that limiting electricity use might even be a good thing for some.

“Maybe the next generation needs to experience restrictions on power supply,” Hashimoto said.

Kepco, members of the Kansai business community and the central government are concerned about the impact electricity-saving steps, curbs and possible rolling blackouts may have on manufacturers.

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada have called for policies that prevent economic damage to industries, while Kepco Vice President Shigeki Iwane pleaded Tuesday for support.

“It’s easy to present numbers and say we can further save this much or that. But the power shortage is something that is really causing problems for our customers, and our own surveys have indicated they have done all they can to save electricity,” Iwane said.

At a meeting Tuesday of Osaka prefectural and municipal officials, outside energy experts and Kepco officials, the utility presented its latest predictions for supply and demand over the summer.

It projects peak demand will rise to just more than 30 million kw by early August. If the Oi reactors remain offline, there will be a supply shortage of about 4.5 to 4.7 million kw.

If the two reactors are restarted, they could provide up to 2.36 million kw. But Kepco said it would take about a month from the day they are turned back on to reach that level of output. This also assumes both reactors continue to operate at 100 percent capacity all summer, a figure critics doubt.

From 2008 to 2010, the average annual operation rate for Japan’s nuclear reactors was between 60 and 70 percent.

For the moment, Kansai’s leaders opposed to the restart continue to resist the growing pressure from the central government, Kepco, local businesses — and even the Monday vote for the restart by the Oi Municipal Assembly.

“While we respect the wishes of Oi, given what happened at Fukushima, you can’t just decide to restart the reactors based on the judgment of the local community,” Hashimoto said.

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada added that the central government’s failure to thoroughly consult with local governments outside of Fukui Prefecture on safety issues was not acceptable.