Japan’s Nuclear and Economic Woes at Center of Campaigns

Leaders for Japan’s biggest political parties are kicking off the campaign for parliamentary elections to be held in less than two weeks with visits to nuclear crisis-hit Fukushima prefecture.

Nuclear energy and the economy are key issues in the Dec. 16 election, which is widely expected to send Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s unpopular Democratic Party of Japan to defeat after three years in power.

The opposition Liberal Democratic Party is leading in the polls, but is unlikely to win a majority of seats in the lower house of parliament.

The most likely outcome of the election is a coalition government whose makeup is far from clear.

Polls show more than 40 percent of voters don’t know which party they’ll support in the election.

Power Short Japan to Restart Nuclear Reactors

Hoping to avert potentially devastating summer power shortages, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said Friday that his government would seek to restart two nuclear reactors, in what would be a first step toward ending an almost complete shutdown of the nation’s nuclear power industry.

Mr. Noda declared units No. 3 and No. 4 at the Ohi Nuclear Power Plant in western Japan to be safe based on the results of computer simulations designed to check the reactors’ tolerance of a large earthquake and tsunami like those last year that knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi plant. The resulting meltdowns and explosions spewed radiation across a wide area of northeastern Japan and the Pacific Ocean in the worst nuclear accident since the one at Chernobyl a quarter century earlier.

Mr. Noda now faces the tricky task of convincing skeptical local leaders and voters in Fukui prefecture, where the Ohi plant is located, that it is safe to turn the reactors back on. Public concerns about safety after the Fukushima accident have prevented Japan from restarting any of its nuclear reactors as they have been gradually taken offline for legally mandated maintenance checks.

Read the rest of the story: Japan Seeks to Restart Some Nuclear Reactors.

First Nuclear Reactor Since Japan’s March 11th Disaster Restarts

A nuclear reactor in western Japan began starting back up on Tuesday after a month’s hiatus, the first reactor in the country closed for any reason to win approval from a local government to resume operations since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that set off the nuclear disaster, a popular backlash against nuclear power has halted the reopening of reactors closed because of damage at the time or unrelated glitches, or for routine inspections. Regulations require reactors to close at least every 13 months for checks, meaning more and more reactors have gone out of service, with none allowed to restart — until Tuesday.

Only 10 of Japan’s 54 reactors are now generating electricity, a sharp reduction for an industry that once supplied 30 percent of the country’s electricity. The shortfall in supply forced the Tokyo Electric Power Company to tell companies to slash energy use by 15 percent this summer.

Read the rest of the story: Reactor in Japan Restarts, a First Since the Tsunami.

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.

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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.

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Power Shortages Just Around the Corner in Japan

Power cuts will hit Kansai, Japan’s second-largest industrial region, as early as this month as restarts of nuclear plants may be delayed, impeding the nation’s recovery from a record earthquake and atomic disaster.

A delay in the restarts could mean Kansai Electric Power Co. will ask clients to cut power use by 10 percent this summer, Fukui Governor Issei Nishikawa said in an interview. The Kansai region, home to Panasonic Corp. 6752 and Nintendo Co., sources about 55 percent of its energy from atomic plants in Fukui, north of Osaka.

Read the rest of the story: Power Shortages Loom in Japan.

Starting the workday early to save power, Tokyo City Employees

Facing a summer power crunch, some Tokyo city government employees began working an hour earlier Monday to conserve energy amid shortages caused by damage to a tsunami-hit nuclear plant.City workers on the earliest shift will start at 7:30 a.m. and be allowed to leave at 4:15 p.m.By better exploiting the early daylight hours this summer, city officials hope to use less air conditioning and less office lighting at night."It should be a good thing, and it doesnt require any cost," Tokyos outspoken Gov. Shintaro Ishihara said Friday. "I think all of Japan should shift to summer time hours."

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Japan, a unique survivor, needs to reinvent itself

It is as if thousands of pedestrians rushing home, all in dark business suits or dresses, are part of a Tim Burton movie set — with dimly lit walkways and dozens of blacked-out flat TV panels akin to mysterious dark windows protruding from the walls without any images. Some passers-by are dressed warmly as heaters are off at an early hour. Some vending machines at the station are unplugged — something unusual for this electronics-crazed nation, to save energy. So are neon-signs of karaoke studios and nightclubs nearby. After a few days of no-business, now restaurants, coffee and ramen shops are packed with salary men and ordinary clients.

Overheard conversations in a coffee shop revealed plans for the upcoming Golden Week — the first week of May when Japanese people traditionally take time off to rest or travel overseas, staying with families and away from their hectic lives. Without any doubt, the most eye-catching advertising travel package was an "Evacuation Tour"— playing on the public sentiment — for those who want a temporary escape abroad. Lots of Japanese are choosing to remain inside the country to show solidarity with their suffering compatriots up north. The people here are good at showing self-restraint as they know how to behave and react to common crisis.

Read the rest of the story: Japan, a unique survivor, needs to reinvent itself.

Millions in Japan struggle without electricity, heat – Blackouts to Continue

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) is carrying out rolling blackouts in its service areas Wednesday morning, excluding Shizuoka Prefecture, which was jolted by a magnitude 6.4 earthquake Tuesday night.

The quake registered upper 6 on the 1-7 Japanese seismic intensity scale.

Railway companies have resumed services as they are given priority supplies of electricity. Service for some main lines in the greater Tokyo area is back to normal, easing congestion.

Meanwhile, Tohoku Electric Power Co. (9506) put off a power outage scheduled to begin at 9:00 a.m., as it was able to draw more power from hydroelectric plants.


When Japan lost a large chunk of its electricity-generating capacity to the one-two punch of earthquake and tsunami, the narrative in parts of one of the world’s most technologically advanced societies was transformed overnight into one of Third World hardship.

For most Japanese, the rolling outages instituted in the wake of the twin disasters translate to inconvenience, sacrifice and economic loss. But for tens of thousands who are now homeless and huddled in evacuation centers in the hard-hit northeast, the stakes are much higher.

"In known evacuation centers, people who reached actual evacuation centers, you have a half million Japanese displaced. They don’t have water, they don’t have electricity, they don’t have oil," said Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. "And the temperatures are… dipping below freezing because it’s snowing in most of those regions. So there’s an acute humanitarian crisis today in Japan.”

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Concern about food, fuel in wake of Japan disasters

Long lines at grocery stores and gas stations along with continued aftershocks and power outages greeted many in Japan on Sunday morning, nearly two days after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that left hundreds dead and missing.

Supplies of food and gas were running out in Sendai, the northern coastal city close to the epicenter of Friday’s quake. Those who survived the earthquake and chose to remain in the city were enduring two-hour waits at the supermarket, according to a CNN iReporter in Sendai with the username joeyjenkins.

"They have waited for I don’t even know how long to get gas, as the gas station manually pumps the gas since there is no electricity," joeyjenkins wrote, adding they were without power until early Sunday.

Read the rest of the story: Concern about food, fuel in wake of Japan disasters.