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Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012
Utilities hold onto plans to build reactors
Phaseout goal in doubt if LDP returns to power
Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yukio Edano has made it clear the government will not allow construction of the Kaminoseki nuclear power station in Yamaguchi Prefecture, underscoring its policy of prohibiting new reactors unless construction is already under way.
But with the policy lacking any legal basis to stop construction, Chugoku Electric Power Co. doesn't appear to be dialing back its preparations to build the facility. With a general election that must be held no later than next summer, the utility also appears to be hoping for the formation of a pronuclear government that would overturn the current no-reactor policy, even though it has widespread public support.
After a Cabinet meeting Oct. 5, Edano told reporters that "if any action is taken by Chugoku Electric, I will consider a response that will account for it," a remark widely taken to mean he is determined to check any moves for pushing ahead with construction of the plant.
Under a new energy strategy worked out in September, the government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda decided to phase out nuclear power by the 2030s and not to allow construction of new reactors.
Twelve reactors are currently planned at new or existing nuclear plants. Construction has not yet started on nine of them, including two reactors at Kaminoseki and two additional reactors at Japan Atomic Power Co.'s Tsuruga power station in Fukui Prefecture.
Work on the other three reactors was halted following the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 facility. They are the first unit at J-Power's new Ohma nuclear plant in Aomori Prefecture, a third reactor for Chugoku Electric's Shimane power station and the first reactor at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Higashidori nuclear plant in Aomori Prefecture.
The prospects of work restarting at Higashidori, however, appear dim because Tepco is focusing its efforts on stabilizing the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Despite Edano's remark about not allowing construction at Kaminoseki, power companies are reluctant to give up their plans.
"We would like to move forward with unflagging resolve," an official of Japan Atomic Power said.
Chugoku Electric on Oct. 5 requested an extension of a reclamation permit at the site planned for the Kaminoseki plant. The utility issued a comment containing the nuanced suggestion that the government has not necessarily decided to stop construction of the plant.
"While the government is engaged in deliberations, (the request for the permit) is intended to keep the status quo for the time being," it said.
Against the backdrop of this kind of thinking is the lack of concrete measures by the government to terminate plans for reactors altogether.
Issuing a permit for building a nuclear plant and authorizing a construction schedule have been shifted to the Nuclear Regulation Authority, which was created in September as a unit of the Environment Ministry in an overhaul of government oversight for the nuclear power industry.
The NRA has indicated it will strictly assess the safety of reactors. "We stand on a position of withholding any judgment that may have policy implications," said NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka, a remark suggesting there may be room for the government to approve construction of the nine reactors.
The government also stopped short of solidifying its new energy strategy. It has not issued a Cabinet decision that would have made the strategy binding even after a change of government.
Electric utilities are apparently hoping the government will make a U-turn and approve construction if the Liberal Democratic Party regains power. Many LDP lawmakers are known to be reluctant about eliminating nuclear power.
Host communities of the planned reactors will likely face a financial pinch as they have been recipients of huge subsidies.
The town of Kaminoseki, for instance, is working with a budget of around ¥4.2 billion this year. Of that amount, roughly ¥1.3 billion is financed by nuclear subsidy payments.
In the face of imminent financial problems, a municipal official expressed hope that some other measures can be taken to help the town's finances.
"We have cooperated with the national program for 30 years, and we hope consideration will be given to the situation," the official said.
At a news conference earlier this month, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura gave his take on Chugoku Electric's request for an extension of the reclamation permit: "I took it to mean they need time to coordinate with various local stakeholders."
Feeling the power pinch
Some 30 percent of large businesses and plants were affected by this summer's power-saving campaign, according to a recent government report.
The companies say they will have to scale down their operations if power shortfalls continue, according to the survey compiled and released Friday by a committee set up to examine this summer's power supply-demand balance estimates.
The survey, conducted in mid-September, covered companies in the service areas of Hokkaido Electric Power Co., Kansai Electric Power Co., Shikoku Electric Power Co. and Kyushu Electric Power Co.
Due to possible power supply shortages following the shutdown of all nuclear plants in the wake of the Fukushima crisis, the government started a power-saving campaign with numerical targets.
The reduction target was set at 10 percent in the service areas of Kansai Electric and Kyushu Electric, 5 percent in the area of Shikoku Electric and 7 percent in the Hokkaido Electric area.
Some 70 to 80 percent of large-lot users in the regions said they could reduce their power consumption in the coming seasons by as much as they did this summer, but the rest answered it would be difficult to do so.
Meanwhile, only about 10 percent of small-lot users, excluding households, said they were affected by this summer's power-saving campaign, the survey said.
The rest said they could manage to save as much electricity again in the future as they did this summer.