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The impact of the magnitude-6.8 earthquake July 16 off Niigata Prefecture on Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant was clearly felt Aug. 22 when TEPCO, on short notice, requested that 23 large-lot industrial customers cut back on their use of electricity that afternoon.

The closure of the 8.21-million-kW nuclear power plant and a surge in air conditioner use during the current heat wave necessitated taking the emergency adjustment measure for the first time since August 1990. Depending on weather conditions, TEPCO may be forced to take a similar measure again.

With the help of other power companies and the cooperation of large-lot industrial customers, the Tokyo utility perhaps will be spared having to suspend delivery of electricity. But the shaky power-supply situation offers an opportunity to rethink the nation’s power supply for the mid- and long range. The government and power industry have pushed the policy of using nuclear power plants as a base portion of supply and thermal power plants as a means of meeting changes in demand. For TEPCO, as of March 31, nuclear power accounted for 28 percent and thermal power 57 percent of its total output capacity of 61.83 million kW.

But a series of data falsification and coverups concerning accidents at nuclear power plants, including criticality accidents, have weakened people’s trust in nuclear power. In the March quake off Noto Peninsula, Hokuriku Electric Power Co.’s Shiga nuclear power plant was hit by tremors more severe than the level at which reactor operations must be stopped. Then came the shutdown of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant. It is said that more than three years will be needed for all seven of its reactors to return to normal operation.

The time has come for Japan to seriously consider diversifying the sources of power generation, including wind and solar power. Not only research and development but also relevant tax measures are called for. Additionally, full disclosure of the situation at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant will be necessary to ensure the safety of nuclear-power generation.

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