Saturday, May 28, 2011

Kan Orders Operations Halt at Chubu Plant


TOKYO ­ Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday submitted a formal request for a halt to all electricity production at Chubu Electric Power Co.'s Hamaoka nuclear power plant in the central Chubu region due to concerns about the plant's preparedness for a major earthquake.

The move immediately affects the No. 4 and 5 units, which are currently operating with an output of around 2,500 megawatts. In addition, it cancels the potential resumption of electricity production at the No. 3 unit, which has a capacity of 1,100 megawatts and is currently on a planned maintenance outage.

In announcing the shutdown, Mr. Kan noted that the Science Ministry estimates an 87% chance of a massive magnitude 8 earthquake in the region over the next 30 years.

"I have requested Chubu Electric to suspend operation of all nuclear reactors at Hamaoka. The reason for this is for the safety of the Japanese people," Mr. Kan said in a televised news conference.

He said the shutdowns would be in effect until appropriate safety measures can be taken, but gave no time frame.

The move will worsen the already constrained power supply situation as Japan enters its highest-demand summer period following the shutdown of nuclear plants following the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami. But Kan said that the government hoped to avoid major disruptions due to the additional outages.

"I believe that we can overcome the risk of a power shortage with the cooperation of the Japanese public," Mr. Kan said.

Kyodo News quoted the company as saying that it had ordered a suspension of all operations at the plant.

Mr. Kan's high-profile closure of the plant comes after criticism that the facility was not adequately prepared for a major quake and that the government was not doing enough to protect against the risk of a second nuclear power plant crisis after the Daiichi crisis became the second-worst nuclear accident on record.

Briefing reporters after Mr. Kan's statement, Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said that the government was asking neighboring Kansai Electric Power Co. for potential assistance.

However, Kansai Electric announced just hours earlier that it was shutting down its own Tsuruga No. 2 plant with an output of around 1,100 megawatts after finding elevated radiation levels in its cooling water. It stressed that there was no release of radiation in the incident but needed to make checks on whether one or more of the fuel rods might have been damaged, allowing small amounts of fuel to leak out.

A Kansai Electric spokeswoman said the company would try every alternative measures to provide sufficient power, including asking help from adjacent Chubu Electric, Chugoku Electric Power Co. and Shikoku Electric Power Co.

Nevertheless, if many of the nuclear power reactors supplying electricity for Kansai remain idle and if temperatures are high this summer, Japan's second-largest power utility, based in Osaka, may have to ask its customers to save electricity, including implementing planned power outages.

In response to the March 11 quake and tsunami, Mr. Kaieda has ordered over the past two months all nine utilities operating nuclear power plants to enhance safety against earthquake and tsunami such as equipping more backup power sources and making doors water-proof.

The nine utilities have implemented some of the measures and reported to the government with schedules to undertake the remaining safety work.

­Mari Iwata contributed to this article.
Write to Hiroyuki Kachi at
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