With Japan’s nuclear reactors mothballed and in the sidelines, the country may be facing a long, hot summer without the comfort of knowing that there will be spare electricity that the power companies can tap when the seasonal demand peaks. Japan has turned off all of their 50 nuclear reactors after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami decimated the Fukushima nuclear power facility and put multiple reactors into meltdown, causing what is now one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters.
“We have managed to secure the minimum necessary power surplus thanks to the support of other utilities companies,” said Jiro Kagawa, vice-president of Kansai Electric Power. “But we have virtually no extra power supply.” Kagawa’s comments may actually be a general plea from all of Japan’s power utilities to the Japanese central government – and especially Nuclear Regulation Authority – to hasten the approval of safety modifications at nuclear power plants across the country so they can be brought online. Japan has indeed managed to slug through the last three summers relatively unscathed, but industry observers say that the Japanese public may forget to control their power consumption, especially as the nuclear crisis becomes something in the background for them. All of this may happen while the demand for electricity from the industrial sector is on the increase as the government pushes to bring hope to Japan’s chronically flagging national economy. “It is not only the power companies that want the reactors restarted, but manufacturing firms are also pressuring the government,” said Tetsuo Kotani, a senior analyst at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. “I’m sure the government would like nothing better than to be able to do that, but approval for the plants has to come from the regulators,” he said. “And their priority is safety rather than the needs of companies.”
In previous summers, the Japanese government set targets for companies in the effort to reduce energy consumption and avoid blackouts. But this year, in Japan’s push towards economic growth, the government has not set strict numerical goals for energy reduction. Instead, they have asked power companies to overhaul their thermal fossil-fuel burning power plants so that no untoward breakdowns will happen in the summer. The government has also pushed the utility companies to have a 3 percent buffer over the maximum capacity that they have to make sure there will be no blackouts, but the utility companies are bare able to have buffer power supply, if any at all.