JAPAN | Power companies’ generation figures called into question amid push for reactor restarts

Posted on July 26, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | 26 July 2011

As Japan strives to conserve power following the closure of nuclear reactors in the wake of the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, suggestions have arisen that power companies are underestimating their generating capacity.

Recently one opposition lawmaker questioned whether power companies, which want to restart their nuclear reactors, have been giving low estimates of the nation’s power supply. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, meanwhile, has shown increasing distrust toward the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), and ordered a review of the nation’s power supplies.

According to METI, the generating capacity of thermal power generation and hydroelectric power generation in fiscal 2009 was 192 million kilowatts. In comparison, peak demand during the high-use summer period ranged between 170 million and 180 million kilowatts. In light of these figures, Social Democratic Party leader Mizuho Fukushima has declared that electricity needs can be covered without nuclear power.

Thermal power generation, however, requires regular inspections, and with hydroelectric power, a drop in water supply in the summer means the facilities can’t be used to their full potential, according to the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan.

Industry minister Banri Kaieda told the House of Councillors Budget Committee on July 25 that Japan can supply “about 157 million kilowatts” of electricity from non-nuclear sources.

At the end of July, about 70 percent of the 57.2 million kilowatts provided by Tokyo Electric Power Co. was produced through thermal generation, while hydroelectric generation accounted for 20 to 25 percent.

The company has pumped-storage facilities that can generate about 9.6 million kilowatts of electricity, but since the nuclear power plants that have supplied the electricity for pumps are down, only about 7 million kilowatts has been included in figures.

Kansai Electric Power Co. had facilities at the end of fiscal 2010 with a generating capacity of 34.88 million kilowatts, but the listed generating capacity for August stands at 29.43 million kilowatts. Only 14.18 million kilowatts of the 16.91 million kilowatt capacity of the firm’s thermal plants has been included in figures. A total of 2.4 million kilowatts cannot be produced due to the suspension of facilities due to aging and other reasons, and company president Makoto Yagi says it would take two to three years to restart them.

The generating capacity of Kansai Electric’s hydroelectric power facilities, meanwhile, is 8.2 million kilowatts, but based on past figures, the highest amount that can be expected from them is 6.24 million kilowatts. The company’s Sakai solar power generation station that will be completed in October with a generating capacity of 10,000 kilowatts can already produce 6,290 kilowatts. However, as generating ability is swayed by the weather and other factors, the company has not included figures from the station in its total.

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