Mon, May 14, 2012 - Page 10 News List

Business freeze in nuclear-free Japan feared


Children eat ice cream during a hot spring day in Tokyo yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Japan’s hard-hit manufacturers are facing a long summer with businesses making everything from ice creams to crayons fretting production may be hampered as the now nuclear-free nation faces energy cuts.

A hot summer would usually be good news for Ezaki Glico, a major snacks and ice cream maker, with soaring temperatures increasing appetites for cooling snacks. However, looming power shortages could make it difficult.

“If the temperature goes up very high this summer and if the government asks us to cut electricity consumption a lot, our ice cream business will be seriously affected,” a company spokesman said.

“We may have to make more ice cream before” power shortages reach their peak, he added.

Two weeks after the last working nuclear reactor was shuttered in the wake of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant crisis, energy-hungry Japan is struggling to plug the power gap.

The government has not yet issued a target on industrial power cuts, but significant reductions seem certain — reportedly as high as 20 percent in some regions, reports said yesterday.

A government panel expects Kansai Electric Power Co, the supplier for the midwestern region, including the commercial hubs of Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, will be 14.9 percent short of projected peak demand in August.

In an attempt to avoid blackouts, the government plans to seek around a 20 percent cut in power consumption in the Kansai area compared with 2010 levels, the Asahi Shimbun and the Mainichi Shimbun dailies said.

Utilities for the northern island of Hokkaido and southern Kyushu also fear they will struggle to provide enough power and the government would ask consumers there to cut usage by about 10 percent, the reports said.

It also plans to ask utilities covering other areas of the country to save 5 percent of their electricity and redirect it to the Kansai region, they added.

The worst nuclear accident in a generation, sparked by a devastating earthquake-tsunami disaster in March last year, turned public sentiment against nuclear power, which had previously supplied one-third of the resource-poor nation’s electricity.

That has stoked a turn to expensive alternatives with utility Kansai Electric last month booking a US$3 billion annual loss on the increased cost of using previously mothballed fossil fuel plants.

Last month, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s government gave the green light to restart reactors at one nuclear plant after they cleared stress tests approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

However, regulators have yet to convince nervous residents living near the facility.

In order to be fired up again, reactors must now pass stress tests and get the consent of their host communities — it is this last hurdle that is proving hardest to overcome.

Energy shortage fears are rippling across Japan with Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of the Japan Business Federation, repeatedly warning that the nation’s economy “would collapse” if none of its 50 reactors was restarted.

In the western region of Kansai last summer, some offices and factories cut their electricity consumption by about 15 percent, a move that proved barely doable for many firms, including major crayon maker Sakura Color Products, based in Osaka.

“We had a bare minimum of lights on, while turning off about half of the computers and elevators at our offices,” a company spokesman said.

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