Power firms to bow out of Suzu nuke project

The Asahi Shimbun, November 29, 2003

Original address: http://www.asahi.com/english/nation/TKY200311290117.html

[Posted 04/12/2003]

Three electric power firms that have been seeking to construct two nuclear power plants in Suzu, Ishikawa Prefecture, since 1976, plan to back out of the project due to economic reasons, sources said.

Kansai Electric Power Co., Chubu Electric Power Co. and Hokuriku Electric Power Co. have a two-stage pullout in mind.

They will first express their intention to freeze the project at board meetings in early December, then convey the decision to the Suzu and Ishikawa governments and finalize it after considering the opinions of local citizens.

It will be the third time a nuclear power project formally incorporated in the government's basic electricity plans will be terminated, but the first to be scrapped due to financial reasons.

The cost of the project, risks associated in building the facilities, decreased electricity demand and ongoing industry deregulation are all thought to be part of the decision.

Passing on the costs of building the nuclear plant to consumers by padding their electricity bills would be a risky move now that deregulation has opened the sector to new entrants and triggered price competition.

The companies have been discussing how to include the Suzu project in their electricity supply plans for fiscal 2004, to be drawn up next March.

Local opposition was behind the first two nuclear projects being scrapped. Chugoku Electric Power Co.'s Hohoku nuclear plant project in Yamaguchi Prefecture was cancelled in 1994 and Chubu Electric Power's Ashihama nuclear plant in Mie Prefecture was scrubbed in 2000.

A two-stage procedure was used to phase out the Ashihama project. Under pressure from local opposition, the prefectural government asked Chubu Electric Power for a ``cooling-off period.'' Two and a half years later, the prefectural governor requested that the firm retract the project, citing lack of understanding on the part of residents. The company consented.

In the Suzu case, a two-pronged phase-out is deemed necessary because some residents support the project.

The issue will likely be one of the main talking points of the Suzu mayoral election slated for next June, preparations for which are expected to get into full swing soon.

Incumbent mayor Osamu Kaizo supports the nuclear project, while local residents are split between pro- and anti-nuclear camps.