February 2003

TEPCO sees supply decline

The Daily Yomiuri, February 13, 2003
By the Takayuki Nishizawa Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

[Posted 14/02/2003]

Net output at Tokyo Electric Power Co. has dropped after a series of cover-up scandals connected to inspections at its nuclear power plants put pressure on the country's largest power utility firm to shut down 13 of its 17 nuclear reactors in Fukushima and Niigata prefectures for special inspections and investigations.

TEPCO plans to close its remaining four reactors by April 15 for voluntary and regular inspections. If none of its other reactors resume operations until that time, all the firm's reactors will be shut down simultaneously.

Fearing a possible power shortage in the Tokyo metropolitan area, TEPCO has been strengthening measures to secure the safety of its operations and regain the trust of local governments. However, when the reactors will resume operations remains to be determined.

TEPCO on Tuesday shut down the No. 5 reactor at the Kashiwazaki-Kariha nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, where four other reactors are currently shut down and under inspection. Since January, several TEPCO employees have been checking the plumbing and interiors of reactor pressure vessels at the plant's No. 6 reactor, which a red warning light in the central control room indicated was inoperative.

Because only about seven years have passed since the No. 6 reactor began operating, the inspection so far has been progressing comparatively smoothly. TEPCO intends to complete the inspection by the end of March. However, it is not known when the reactor will resume operation.

In addition to needing approval from local governments to resume operations, the nuclear reactors are required to meet the following conditions:

-- The reactors' safety must be confirmed through regular or voluntary inspections.

-- The technical safety of reactors with problems in parts such as the shroud, which covers the reactor core, must be assessed by a subcommittee of the Advisory Committee for Natural Resources and Energy, an advisory body to the Economy, Trade and Industry minister.

TEPCO intends to seek local governments' approval by offering to illustrate the process for resuming operations when the power company restarts its reactors. However, as a result of the cover-up scandals, local residents in areas near nuclear power facilities are deeply distrustful of the utility firm.

Uniformed TEPCO employees are visiting more than 30,000 households in Kashiwazaki and Karihamura in Niigata Prefecture to apologize for the cover-ups, and the firm has established new behavioral codes for workers at each reactor, in addition to general standards set by TEPCO headquarters.

However, local governments have been cautious about resuming operations. Niigata Gov. Ikuo Hirayama said, "Safety should absolutely not be ignored."

When TEPCO on Saturday gave local governments an outlook for the March resumption of operations at the Kashiwazaki-Kariha No. 6 reactor and the No. 3 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture, Fukushima Gov. Eisaku Sato reacted strongly, saying, "It's not time for the resumption (of operations)."

"We can't draw up any concrete scenarios as to when and which reactors will resume operations," said Ichiro Takekuro, head of the Kashiwazaki-Kariha nuclear power plant.

Observers pointed out that the more enthusiastically TEPCO pursues restarting its reactors, the more offense it causes to local residents. One TEPCO executive said: "To what extent should we make efforts to gain the understanding of local residents, and what level of understanding should we seek for the resumption of operations? I have no idea."


Summer shortages loom

TEPCO's nuclear power plants are capable of generating up to 17,300 megawatts of power, or about 30 percent of the total amount of power the firm can generate. With the discovery of faked inspection data in August 2002, criticism has been mounting concerning the safety of nuclear power plants and TEPCO's stance on security. Since then, TEPCO has decided to perform voluntary inspections or early regular inspections on all its nuclear reactors, and to investigate cracks in the shrouds of the reactors concerned in the cover-up scandals.

To manage a peak in demand for power during the winter, TEPCO decided not to perform the regular inspections during the winter and to cover electricity shortages by reopening thermal power plants that had suspended their operations. However, with more nuclear power reactors closed, it will be difficult for the firm to provide enough electricity in March, according to TEPCO.

If TEPCO cannot restart any of its reactors, the power situation will worsen in the summer, when power demand peaks for the year.

The demand for electricity at TEPCO hit a record high of 64,300 megawatts in July 2001. In July 2002, the figure was 63,200 megawatts. TEPCO Vice President Teruaki Masumoto said, "If it's about the same in July this summer, we'll be about 10,000 megawatts short." To cover the shortage, TEPCO would need to resume operations at about half its nuclear reactors.

One observer said even if other power companies assisted by supplying additional electricity, "it would be a drop in the bucket."

Experts said if the summer arrives earlier than usual, the power supply would run short as soon as June, or by late July if the summer progresses as normal. Parts of the metropolitan area could face power failures. In addition to seeking approval to resume operations, TEPCO has mounted a TV campaign to encourage consumers to save electricity.

Back to contents