TOKYO: Japan will maintain atomic power as a major part of its energy policy despite the country’s ongoing nuclear crisis at tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, a top official said Sunday.
The Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary, Mr Yoshito Sengoku also said the government has no plans to shut down any more functioning nuclear reactors other than three at the Hamaoka power plant in central Japan. The plant was asked Friday to halt the units until a seawall is built and backup systems are improved at Hamaoka.
“Our energy policy is to stick to nuclear power,” Mr Sengoku said on a weekly talk show on public broadcaster NHK.
He said Hamaoka was an exception and that the government’s closure request Friday did not mean a departure from its nuclear-reliant policy.
Chubu Electric Power Co, which runs the three Hamaoka reactors, postponed its decision Saturday on the government’s shutdown request.
The main concern is that shutting down the reactors would likely worsen power shortages expected this summer.
Nuclear energy provides more than one-third of Japan’s electricity. Since the March 11 disasters, buildings have reduced lighting, stores have trimmed service hours and subway operators have shut air conditioning to join a nationwide conservation effort.
The government has been reviewing the safety of the country’s 54 atomic reactors since a March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in the north. The disaster left more than 25,000 people dead or missing on the northeast coast and triggered the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
The Hamaoka plant, which is about 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of Tokyo, in an area where a major quake is expected within decades, has been a major concern for years.
However, Sengoku said there is “no need to worry” about other plants in the country. “Scientifically, that’s our conclusion at the moment,” he said.
Chubu Electric executives failed to reach a decision Saturday over the shutdown request and will meet again after the weekend, company official Mikio Inomata said.
At issue is how to make up for the power shortages that would result from the shutdown of the three reactors. Inomata said they account for more than 10 percent of the company’s power supply.
Chubu Electric has estimated maximum output of about 30 million kilowatts this summer with the three Hamaoka reactors running, with estimated demand of about 26 million kilowatts.
“It would be tight,” Inomata said, adding that officials are discussing the possibility of boosting output from gas, oil and coal-fueled power plants and purchasing power from other utility companies.
The Hamaoka plant is a key power provider in central Japan, including nearby Aichi, home of Toyota Motor Corp.
The Prime Minister, Mr Naoto Kan said Friday that the closure request was for the “people’s safety.”
He noted that experts estimate there is a 90 percent chance that a quake with a magnitude of 8.0 or higher will strike the region within 30 years.
“That makes Hamaoka an exceptional case,” Kan told reporters Sunday, saying the plant is the only one subject to closure for a tsunami resistance upgrade. Kan also urged Chubu executives “to understand.”