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A risk of rolling blackouts this summer

April 18, 2012


Edano hints at possible rolling blackouts again this summer



TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Industry minister Yukio Edano hinted for the first time Tuesday that rolling blackouts may be implemented again this summer if it is deemed necessary amid the potential halt of all nuclear reactors in Japan.

"If there is concern (over electricity supply and demand this summer), even if only slightly, we could devise a plan to implement rolling blackouts not only for areas covered by Kansai Electric Power Co.," he said at a press conference, referring to the utility which is facing an especially tight electricity supply situation.

Rolling blackouts were implemented after the start of the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima Daiichi power plant in March 2011 due to power supply shortages in the utility's service area, disrupting daily life.

With a number of reactors shut down for periodic checks, only the No. 3 reactor at Hokkaido Electric Power Co.'s Tomari plant in Hokkaido is currently operating among Japan's 54 commercial reactors. That reactor too is slated for shutdown on May 5.

Edano also apologized for his comments Sunday that Japan would be without operating reactors only "momentarily" from May 6 as the remarks were taken to suggest that some offline reactors could be restarted soon, although it has yet to be decided amid local concern about ensuring nuclear safety.

"I should have said (the number of operating reactors in Japan) will be zero at least for a while," Edano said. "I apologize for the concern and effects that my remarks caused to various people."

He added that his view remains unchanged that it will be difficult to restart two offline reactors at Kansai Electric's Oi nuclear power plant before May 5 and that Japan will face a period with no operating reactors.

Meanwhile, the governors of Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, near the Oi nuclear complex, urged the central government to set up a third-party committee to examine if electricity will really be in short supply without nuclear power, and Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said the government will do so.

The committee, to be chaired by Katsuyuki Ishida, senior vice minister at the Cabinet Office, is expected to hold its first meeting as early as next week.

Kyoto Gov. Keiji Yamada and Shiga Gov. Yukiko Kada, who have been reluctant about restarting the Oi reactors, also urged the central government in seven requests released in Kyoto to establish a time schedule for the creation of a society that does not rely on nuclear power.

In a report on their requests, the two governors said Kyoto and Shiga prefectures, parts of which lie within a 30 kilometer radius of the Oi plant, could be as adversely affected as the municipality that hosts the plant if an accident occurs.

"It is hard to say that there is national understanding on the reactivation (of the Oi reactors)," the report said. The governors also called for the early establishment of a new nuclear regulatory agency.

Since the Fukushima nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, no Japanese reactors have resumed operation after being shut down for mandatory periodic checks, and the two Oi reactors are the first being considered for possible reactivation by the central government.

Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Edano and two other ministers are to make a final decision on whether to resume operation of the two Oi reactors after assessing the reactions of local authorities and public opinion.

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