Businesses in the Kansai region gave a collective sigh of relief after the central government decided May 18 not to issue a special edict that would have required them to cut electricity use this summer--even if no nuclear reactors are brought back online.
Behind the government's decision was a feeling that issuing such an instruction would put businesses in the position of riding out a possible power crunch even in the absence of any nuclear power, sources said.
The Noda administration is eager to restart several reactors before the summer heat kicks in to drive home the point that Japan needs nuclear power plants online to shore up its economic activities.
Some regions will face a tight power supply this summer as all of the nation’s 50 reactors have been taken offline for safety inspections since early this month.
A shortage is particularly serious in the Kansai region, which is served by Kansai Electric Power Co., with a shortfall of 14.9 percent projected during peak demand time in August.
KEPCO generates half of its electricity output through nuclear power, a rate higher than the nation's other utilities.
The government has asked businesses and households in the region to voluntarily reduce their power use by 15 percent, but experts say it would take 20 percent to ensure that power outages are avoided to fill the gap of the remaining 5 percent.
The government passed up issuing a mandatory edict, although it initially considered it.
Instead, it called on four regions, including Chubu and Chugoku, that are forecast to have a surplus of power, to reduce electricity use up to 7 percent so that utilities there will be able to supply extra power to KEPCO.
The government avoided issuing a special edict because it would have been tantamount to putting a noose around its own neck, sources said.
Once issued, businesses and households would likely be able to weather peak summer demand without nuclear power.
The government shied away from making the move for fear it would accelerate a shift away from nuclear power, acording to the sources.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in a Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) news program on May 17 that he is hoping to put reactors back online soon.
“I want to make a decision under my leadership,” Noda said when asked about the possible restart of two reactors at KEPCO’s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture. “I understand we will soon make that decision.”
The government initially intended to resume operations at the Oi plant before Japan’s last reactor online in Hokkaido was shut down. But that plan did not come to fruition and Japan has no nuclear reactors currently online.
Although the Kansai region still faces the possibility of rolling blackouts, Makoto Yagi, KEPCO president, expressed his intention to steer clear of it.
“We will do our best not to have (rolling blackouts)," he said at a May 18 news conference.
Since late last year, businesses with offices and factories in the Kansai region have been preparing for a power shortfall by not only cutting electricity use, but also by generating power on their own and supplying one another with surplus power.
But some companies have said that those efforts are starting to fizzle out.
Meanwhile, the Nippon Paper Group is considering sales of power created by an in-house generating system at its plant in Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, to four group factories in the Kansai region.
Nippon Steel Corp. said it is considering how to best use power generators installed at its plants.
The company plans to run them at full capacity in July and August after completing checks on them before summer.
Although some companies expanded production at their factories in western Japan after precarious power supplies in eastern Japan last year, the trend will be opposite this year.
Lion Corp., a manufacturer of oral care and other products, said that it may step up output of detergents at its plant in Chiba Prefecture to make up for cuts at its plant in Osaka Prefecture.
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