Japan may go ‘momentarily’ without nuclear power

Japan may go “momentarily” without nuclear power next month when the only one reactor still in operation shuts down for maintenance work, the country’s industry minister warned Sunday.

Yukio Edano made the comment as the government prepared to restart two offline nuclear reactors amid criticism from media and environmental groups sceptical over the safety of atomic power after the Fukushima accident.

“The number of nuclear reactors operating across the country may go down to zero, perhaps momentarily, from May 6,” he said in a seminar in Tokushima, western Japan.

The government of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced on Friday that it was safe and necessary to restart the reactors at the Oi nuclear power plant in western Japan, which could help prevent power shortages in the summer months.

Only one of Japan’s 54 reactors – in northernmost Hokkaido – is in operation at present, but it is scheduled to be shut down for maintenance work on May 5.

But it was not certain if and when the government could gain approval from regional authorities around the Oi plant for the reactors to be restarted amid persistent public distrust.

“Without nuclear reactors, it is understandable that there will be considerable strain on many areas in this summer,” Edano added.

Edano on Saturday called on the governor of Fukui, where the Oi plant is located. The governor, Issei Nishikawa, did not give an immediate response to his request for approval of the plan.

But the major daily Mainichi Shimbun said Sunday: “It is hard to understand why the government is in such a haste to restart the reactors.”

It added in an editorial that more thorough checks were needed to ensure safety.

“Independent studies show that there will be no power shortages,” said Wakao Hanaoka, the Japan campaign manager for the environment watchdog Greenpeace.

A massive earthquake and tsunami in March last year caused reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. None of reactors shut for regular checks before the disaster have resumed operation amid safety concerns.

“The nuclear industry and the government were totally unprepared for the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi and now they are trying to pretend they can call Oi safe without improving safety or emergency measures,” Hanaoka said.

The government set criteria nine days ago for restarting nuclear reactors included measures to prevent a nuclear accident even if reactors are hit by natural disasters as severe as those that ravaged the Fukushima plant.

“It is uncertain if the plan will ever gain an understanding of communities which have raised objections to the resumption of the reactors,” the Asahi Shimbun reported Sunday.

The influential daily criticised the Noda administration for being “inconsistent” over its nuclear power policy.

Before Noda took office last September, he promised to follow his predecessor Naoto Kan in ridding Japan of nuclear power, Asahi said.

But he backtracked last January when he said in a policy speech that the resources-poor country would reduce its dependence on nuclear power “as much as possible on a medium- and long-term basis”.

Striking a more positive tone, the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun called on Noda to visit Fukui himself and “speak clearly in his own words about his government’s energy policy and why it is necessary to restart reactors”.

Winter power cuts for Kansai, Kyushu

The government decided Tuesday to ask customers of Kansai Electric Power Co. to cut power usage by more than 10 percent and customers of Kyushu Electric Power Co. to reduce their electricity consumption by 5 percent this winter.

For the December-March period, the government said the supply-demand situation will "not be as serious as this summer" nationwide.

But due to the idling of nuclear reactors, the power supply capacity of Kansai Electric could be as much as 9.5 percent below peak demand and Kyushu Electric up to 2.2 percent short.

Read the rest of the story: Winter power cuts for Kansai, Kyushu.


Japan Gets Electricity Wake-Up Call

Masayuki Hattori, 46, lives with his extended family of seven in a house in the middle-class Itabashi neighborhood of Tokyo. Five years ago, he received a sales pitch from Tokyo Electric Power Co., which had teamed up with appliance makers, that he found too attractive to ignore: Switch from gas as the fuel of choice for his home’s heating and cooking and go “all electric.”

The package deal offered solar panels for home generation of electricity, grid connection for Tokyo Electric to provide backup power — and buy any surplus power generated by the panels — and a full range of electrical home appliances. It would provide all the energy that Mr. Hattori and his family would need and would also help the environment. It seemed like a win-win proposition.

Read the rest of the story: Japan Gets Electricity Wake-Up Call.

Japan’s Utilities Seek Record Loans as Fuel Costs Rise

Japan’s top five electric utilities, shut out of the bond market following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, are borrowing a record 4 trillion yen $52 billion in loans at a premium to pay for the surging cost of fuel.Tohoku Electric Power Co., based in the tsunami-damaged northeast, will pay 1.4 percent interest on the 50 billion yen, 15-year loan it clinched on Sept. 30, or a 45.5 basis points spread over the similar-maturity government notes, according to Bloomberg calculations based on company data. Borrowing at that rate, the Japanese utilities would pay an extra 2.6 billion yen in loan interest this fiscal year than they would selling bonds, the calculations show.Tokyo Electric Power Co., Japan’s largest utility, and its peers are facing lower profit margins as the shutdown of Japan’s atomic plants after the world’s worst accident since Chernobyl has forced the utilities to burn more natural gas and coal to meet demand. The companies are scrambling for alternative sources of financing to replace a net 1.25 trillion yen worth of bonds retired since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami caused uncertainty over the future of atomic energy in the country.

Read the rest of the story: Utilities Seek Record Loans as Fuel Costs Spike: Japan Credit.

Summer of Setsuden, A Marketing and By the People Success in Japan

After a long, hot and dark summer in Japan, the days are cooler and the nights are brighter. For this the Japanese can give thanks not just to September, but also to setsuden, or “energy saving,” an ambitious and strikingly successful campaign to conserve electricity after the March earthquake, tsunami and nuclear-plant disasters.

The destruction of the Fukushima Daiichi plant led Japan to shut down all but 15 of its 54 nuclear reactors. This was a huge blow to a country that depends heavily on nuclear power and has made scant investments in renewable energy. As summer approached, the only way to avoid a national energy emergency was through drastic conservation. And so the Japanese powered down.

The government required big power users to reduce peak consumption by 15 percent. Utilities pleaded with consumers to pitch in. Industries, offices and private households turned lights off and thermostats up, above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Office workers traded suits and ties for kariyushi shirts, the Okinawan version of aloha wear. They moved their shifts to early mornings and weekends, climbed the stairs and worked by the dim glow of computer screens and LED lamps. Families stopped doing laundry every day; department stores and subway stations turned off the air-conditioning. Posters of happy cartoon light bulbs urged everybody to pitch in.

Read the rest of the story: In Japan, the Summer of Setsuden.

‘Smart cities’ to rise from Japan disaster

Plans to rebuild many areas devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake as environmentally friendly "smart cities" are being explored by corporations and municipal governments.

By promoting large-scale projects that include power-generation facilities utilising renewable energy and smart grids, the plans are also meant to create jobs. Some companies and local governments have already started working together on these projects.

Major electronics manufacturer Toshiba Corp has proposed an integrated system, with facilities ranging from power generation and water-treatment systems to "smart metre" next-generation power meters, to some local governments.

An official of the company’s smart community division said, "In the future, (we want) to export technologies created domestically."

Read the rest of the story: ‘Smart cities’ to rise from Japan disaster.

Kepco’s massive solar plant up and running in Japan

Kansai Electric Power Co. has finished building Japan’s largest solar power plant, a 10,000-kilowatt facility in Osaka Prefecture capable of generating enough electricity to run about 3,000 households.

It has also started testing a system with a cluster of nickel hydrate batteries that can store and supply power in a stable manner, the company said Wednesday.

The cluster, set up in a transformer station near the solar facility in the waterfront area of Sakai, is capable of storing some 100 kwh.

Read the rest of the story: Kepco’s massive solar plant up and running.

Japan to decrease nuclear power

The number of Japan’s nuclear plants could dwindle to zero in the future, Japanese Industry Minister Yoshio Hachiro said.

Based on Japan’s new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s policy of not building new nuclear power plants and decommissioning aged ones, "it would be zero," Hachiro told reporters when asked whether the number of nuclear plants in the country would be reduced.

Noda replaced Naoto Kan, who stepped down a week ago amid criticism over his handling of the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster.

Noda has suggested Japan will eventually phase out nuclear power generation in the resource-poor nation, Asia’s second-largest economy.

Read the rest of the story: Japan to decrease nuclear power?.

Toshiba – Japan has new relationship with energy

Toshiba CEO of digital products Masaaki Osumi believes people in Japan have changed their relationship with energy following the earthquake and tsunami that hit the east of the country earlier this year.

"The earthquake has changed people’s values," he said at the Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) consumer electronics show in Berlin as the video wall behind him filled with cataclysmic images of overwhelmed sea defenses, trucks adrift in swirling waters and towns reduced to matchwood by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami that hit eastern Japan on March 11.

"The biggest change is in people’s relationship to energy," Osumi said in his keynote address.

Read the rest of the story: Toshiba – Japan has new relationship with energy.

Japan: An Energy Revolution

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development OECD released an updated version of its Monthly Electricity Survey, which tracks trends in electricity production for countries and regions around the world.  The data for Japan are stunning.According to the OECD, Japan produced more electricity in May 2011 than it did in May 2010, but did so with 34% LESS nuclear energy and 1% hydro.  Japan produced 295% more electricity from renewable-energy resources – including geothermal, solar and wind power – in May 2011 than it produced with renewable energy in May 2010.  Wow.

Read the rest of the story: Profile of An Energy Revolution: Japan.