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Does this sound like blackmail?

May 11, 2012
Gov't forces choice on local bodies: restart nuclear reactors or face power restrictions



The government released preliminary calculations on May 10 stating that areas serviced by Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO) could avert a major power shortage this summer if the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukui Prefecture were restarted and companies and households made an effort to conserve power.

The government is considering placing restrictions on power use this summer if the nuclear reactors, which have been shut down for inspections, are not restarted -- setting large power-saving targets and penalizing companies that fall short of them. However, local bodies have been reluctant to side with the government in its push to quickly restart the reactors.

The latest calculations can be viewed as forcing a choice on local bodies: restart the nuclear reactors or face restrictions on power use. However, KEPCO, which operates the Oi plant, originally predicted that it would face a power shortage of about 5 percent this summer even if the nuclear reactors were restarted. As such, the new calculations that equate restarting the reactors with alleviation of a power shortage seem abrupt.

If the government's approach of taking the restarting of the reactors for granted without a sufficient explanation prevails, then distrust toward the government could spread in Fukui Prefecture, the neighboring prefectures of Kyoto and Shiga, and among local bodies in Osaka Prefecture and elsewhere.

The new calculations were initially presented by KEPCO in a May 10 morning meeting of the government's supply and demand inspection committee. They state that if Japan experiences a scorching summer this year similar to that seen in 2010, then even if contracts were adjusted to have major power consumers conserve electricity at peak times, supply would fall short of demand by 14.9 percent (about 4.45 million kilowatts). On the other hand, if the No. 3 and 4 reactors at the Oi plant were restarted, in addition to the 2.36 million kilowatts of electricity they would produce, pumped water storage -- in which water is pumped to a high elevation at night, when demand for electricity is low, and then released during the day -- could be used to produce an additional 2.1 million kilowatts of electricity. This would raise supply by 4.46 million kilowatts, giving KEPCO a 10,000 kilowatt surplus. Taking into account assistance from Chubu Electric Power Co. and Chugoku Electric Power Co., supply could be raised even further.

The supply and demand inspection committee was originally to compile figures on electricity supply and demand on the presupposition that the nuclear reactors would not be restarted. However, a representative of the government's National Policy Unit, which serves as secretariat, commented, "We presented preliminary calculations envisaging the restarting of the Oi reactors this time because committee members asked us to do so at the last meeting (on May 7)."

The government is considering introducing power restrictions in areas serviced by KEPCO if it cannot restart the Oi reactors, but time is needed by companies to prepare for such restrictions, and there is little time to decide whether restrictions should be put in place.

A representative of Panasonic commented, "We would have to make full-scale adjustments in our dealings with clients and take our employees into consideration." In response to such industry concerns, the government plans to hold a meeting of Cabinet ministers concerned with the issue as early as next week to decide on summer power conservation measures in KEPCO's service areas.

The government wants to avoid power restrictions which greatly affect companies' operations and are unpopular. In a news conference on May 10, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura commented that the explanations to local bodies with a view to restart the Oi reactors were "ripening," hinting that the government hoped the reactors would be restarted.

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