Rolling blackouts possible even if Oi reactors are restarted

June 02, 2012


The government is planning for rolling blackouts in the Kansai region and other areas even if two idle reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in Fukui Prefecture are brought back online before summer.

The scenario would likely affect some 40 million people.

Currently, none of Japan's 50 nuclear power reactors are operating. Many have been suspended for routine maintenance but have not been restarted because of political opposition following last year's disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Despite public unease, the Noda administration has been pushing hard to get the Oi nuclear plant's No. 3 and No. 4 reactors back online before summer, saying failing to do so would risk serious power shortages.

But that may not be enough. On June 1, the government decided to prepare for rolling blackouts regardless of the situation at Oi. Even if the Oi reactors come back online, ministers now believe they will not reach full output capacity before the start of the peak demand period from early July.

The government drew up a power saving program for the summer on May 18, that included preparations for rolling blackouts in parts of Japan, on the assumption that all of the country's nuclear reactors would remain idle throughout the period.

It projected that, with no nuclear power, electricity supply could fall 14.9 percent short of demand in the service area of the Osaka-based Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), and might also fall short in areas served by Kyushu Electric Power Co. and Hokkaido Electric Power Co.

The rolling blackout plans are being considered for the service areas of Hokkaido Electric, KEPCO, Kyushu Electric and Shikoku Electric Power Co.

The government program of May 18 requests households and companies in the areas served by those four regional utilities to cut power use by 7-15 percent during the summer.

KEPCO has projected its capacity will be just enough to meet demand if the two Oi nuclear reactors are back in operation and at full output. However, KEPCO officials believe it will take about six weeks for them to achieve full output. Industry minister Yukio Edano has indicated that level is not likely to be reached before July 2, the start date of the government's power saving requests.

"It will not be before July that both reactors will be generating power at full capacity," Edano told a news conference on June 1.

While the regional utilities will be responsible for implementing the rolling blackouts, the Cabinet is also playing a role in preparing for them because last spring’s rolling blackouts in the area served by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) caused considerable disruption.

A draft protocol for the blackouts drawn up by the Cabinet on June 1 says they would usually only be imposed once a day and would last for about two hours each time. However, they might be implemented twice a day in some parts of KEPCO's service area.

Areas surrounding nuclear plants would be exempt from rolling blackouts to ensure safety and an adequate emergency response.

The draft protocol calls for minimizing the impact of power outages on financial systems and public facilities, including medical institutions, railways and prefectural government offices.

For example, the regional utilities will be asked to try to dispatch power supply vehicles to medical and other institutions prior to blackouts. The draft plan also says power companies should lend compact power generators to home-care patients who rely on ventilators, and that emergency consultation centers, set up under the National Hospital Organization and other bodies, should be established to provide for such patients.

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The No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

  • The No. 3 and No. 4 reactors of the Oi nuclear power plant in Oi, Fukui Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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