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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Atomic power to stay, Kepco tells investors


Staff writer

OSAKA — Kansai Electric Power Co. told shareholders Wednesday it will stick with and boost nuclear power, its main source of juice, and alternatives such as solar, wind and thermal energy would be a smaller part of the overall future mix.

News photo
Atomic anger: A man wearing a hat showing a smoking nuclear reactor protests outside Kepco's 2011 shareholders' meeting Wednesday in Osaka. KYODO

Kepco's announcement came as five of the nation's electric utilities held shareholders' meetings the same day, focusing on the safety of atomic energy following the previous day's fiery confrontation between investors and Tokyo Electric Power Co. over its radiation-spewing Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Kepco, Tohoku Electric, Hokkaido Electric, Chugoku Electric and Shikoku Electric all conducted their annual meetings.

During the Kepco meeting in Osaka, which was attended by Osaka Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu, several angry exchanges erupted between antinuclear shareholders and Kepco officials.

Hiramatsu, as well as Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto, had met with Kepco's president earlier this month to push for the utility to consider how to move from nuclear energy to solar, wind, and other renewable energies.

Many of the shareholders called on the firm to invest more in renewable energy resources. The city of Osaka holds about 9.4 percent of Kepco's stock, and Hiramatsu told the gathering he wanted to see the utility expand its efforts in renewables.

"The shift from nuclear power to a firm that makes use of a broader range of energy resources is the company's social responsibility," Hiramatsu said.

But 51 percent of Kepco's electricity comes from nuclear plants — whereas the national average is about 30 percent, including 27 percent for pre-3/11 Tepco.

Kepco said its mid- to long-term strategy was actually to use more nuclear power while determining what the role of renewables should be.

"Nuclear power will be central to our future plans, and along with renewables, we aim to find the best energy mix," Kepco Vice President Yasuo Hamada said.

Kepco President Makoto Yagi also emphasized the importance of nuclear power to the company's future and said the first step was to restore public trust by addressing the safety of the plants in case of a natural disaster.

"We have already established countermeasures to deal with the possibility of an earthquake or tsunami that affects our nuclear power plants (on the Japan Sea coast in Fukui Prefecture)," Yagi said.

Shareholders, supported by the Kepco board of directors, voted down a resolution that would have forced Yagi to resign. They also voted against proposals to have three outside environmental NGO observers serve as advisers and one that would have denied executives bonuses until the company withdrew from nuclear power.

Another question from the floor concerned the necessity of Kepco's demand that customers cut electricity use by 15 percent due to the closure of nuclear plants for inspection.

Kepco apologized for the confusion over the announcement, and admitted it could have done a better job explaining how it arrived at that figure.

Most local governments in the Kansai region plan to enact a variety of electricity-saving measures from July 1, with prefectural and municipal governments agreeing on reductions they say will cut electricity use by up to 17 percent.

But speculation among antinuclear activists and some local media is that Kepco's announcement of a 15 percent cut was also to put the brakes on discussions within Kansai about the possibility of shifting to renewable energy.

In late May, seven Kansai prefectures expressed support for Softbank founder Masayoshi Son's megasolar initiative, which aims to slash nuclear power usage by putting solar panels on unused farmland. Less than two weeks later, Kepco, without a detailed explanation, announced a 15 percent cut was needed to avoid the risk of power shortages.

Meanwhile, investors in other power firms also focused on the nuclear issue, discussing a split over nuclear plants' potential danger and the economic benefits of hosting them.

"Stable electricity supply is the key to sustaining Japan's industrial activities," Yoshiko Kataoka, 74, who holds stake in Tohoku Electric, said in Sendai.

Information from Kyodo added



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