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Japan firm leans towards closing nuclear plant

Updated: 2011-05-08 17:25
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TOKYO -- A Japanese power company is leaning towards closing its only nuclear plant as requested by the prime minister, local media said on Sunday, as power cuts loom in the aftermath of an earthquake and tsunami that crippled another plant in the north.

Chubu Electric Power Co could make the decision at a board meeting as early as Monday.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan last week called for Chubu to shut Hamaoka in central Japan, citing the risk of another disastrous quake and signalling a potential shift in energy policy as technicians try to stop radiation leaking from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

Kan and other officials say other plants will be unaffected. But the premier's call to close Hamaoka could embolden anti-nuclear movements rejuvenated after the world's worst atomic crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.

Asked whether he will seek the closure of other nuclear plants, Nikkei business daily online cited Kan as telling reporters: "That won't be the case."

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku said there was no question of reviewing Japan's commitment to nuclear power. "As for energy strategy or policy, we will stick to nuclear power plants," he said on NHK public television.

Japan last year undertook to boost to 50 percent by 2030 the share of electricity generation through nuclear power -- from 30 percent now -- but it is under new pressure to rethink strategy.

Board members of Chubu, Japan's third-biggest utility serving major manufacturers, including Toyota Motor Corp, postponed a decision on Saturday on whether to temporary close Hamaoka, its sole nuclear plant.

A company statement said discussions were proceeding on "a broad range of topics" and Chubu spokesman Akio Miyazaki said a new board meeting would take place on or after Monday.

Yomiuri newspaper said Chubu was likely to comply with Kan's request to close Hamaoka, with a capacity of 3,617 megawatts pending introduction of quake and tsunami safety measures, but only after it finds ways to supply power in stable fashion. Two of the plant's three working reactors are in operation.


Kan said he took the decision to seek the closure "out of concerns for public safety" as government experts put at 87 percent the chance of a magnitude 8.0 quake hitting the region served by Chubu Electric over the next 30 years.

The quake on March 11 measured 9.0 and the tremor and tsunami crippled cooling systems at Fukushima Daiichi, operated by Tokyo Electric Company (TEPCO) . Workers entered one reactor at the plant last week for the first time since a hydrogen explosion ripped off its roof.

Of 54 reactors in commercial use in Japan, 32 are under planned or unplanned maintenance and operators may face resistance to restarting them.  

Several thousand protesters marched through central Tokyo on Saturday to welcome Kan's call to shut down Hamaoka and urging him to proceed with further closures.

Chubu says it can meet this fiscal year's peak demand of 25,600 MW even if Hamaoka shuts. But the Yomiuri newspaper, quoting a company executive, says the company would have to consider "rolling blackouts" if the weather turns very hot.

Miyazaki said relying on thermal plants to make up shortfalls if Hamaoka closes would push up costs by 700 million yen ($8.7 million) per day -- or about 256 billion yen a year. That could overturn the firm's projected profit of 130 billion yen in the year to March 31, 2012.

He said company chairman Toshio Mita was in Qatar discussing further procurement of liquefied natural gas. ($1 = 80.630 Japanese Yen)