Thu, Jul 28, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Japan faces power woes next summer

Reuters, TOKYO

Japan could face a power shortage of more than 9 percent next summer if all its nuclear reactors are shut, media reported yesterday, citing government estimates.

Public concerns about nuclear power flared after a deadly earthquake and tsunami in March caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 25 years. By May next year, all 54 of Japan’s reactors could go offline if safety fears delay their restart after regular maintenance.

The government warns that would increase pollution and economic costs, though it is discussing ways to reduce reliance on nuclear power and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan sees Japan’s future as a nuclear-free nation.

If Japan had to operate without any nuclear reactors it would only be able to supply 162,970 megawatts of power next summer, 9.2 percent short of the estimated 179,540 megawatt demand, according to government estimates presented to a ruling party meeting, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

A government official said a team was working out the estimates and that the final forecast could be different as they were taking into account constantly changing factors.

The simulation does not take into account the effect of power savings, which so far have spared Japan electricity shortages this summer.

“We’ll have to overcome the power shortage with more power savings if we have no hopes for nuclear plants’ restart,” said Hirofumi Kawachi, senior analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities. “Some people say that we can cover the 10 percent with power savings, but the fossil-fuel plants have been operating at full capacity this summer, so we do not know if we can do the same next year.”

Only 16 nuclear reactors are now operating in the wake of the natural disasters and the share of nuclear power in the nation’s energy supply fell to about 18 percent last month from about 30 percent before March 11.

However, a combination of mandatory power cuts and voluntary savings by companies and consumers allowed the utilities to match supply and demand without resorting to rolling blackouts.

Some industries have opted to operate on the weekends to avoid peak hours and sales of electric fans have been brisk this summer, as many households have reduced usage of air conditioners to save electricity.

As part of a broader campaign to stave off power shortages, the government is considering a plan to equip households with smart power meters which track consumption for more efficient use of electricity, the Nikkei Shimbun reported. Tokyo aims to get the meters to track about 80 percent of total energy demand within five years.

Utilities are also expected to make various efforts to overcome any gaps between supply and demand.

Relying more on thermal power plants could mean higher fuel costs for the utilities as more oil and natural gas will be needed, but that may not be simply passed on to consumers, said Koya Miyamae, an economist at SMBC Nikko Securities.

“Raising electricity bills requires clearance from the trade ministry and such permission may not come right away. In such a case, the utilities would have to shoulder any cost increases,” he said.

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