Chugoku Elec says may delay March 2012 reactor launch

* New reactor may be delayed as parts supplier’s engineers
go to Fukushima

* Preparation work on new nuclear plant on hold but more
spending allotted

TOKYO, March 28 (Reuters) – Chugoku Electric Power
said it may delay the planned March 2012 start of commercial
operations for its third nuclear reactor because engineers are
busy dealing with a crisis at a nuclear plant operated by Tokyo
Electric Power .

Chugoku Electric, headquartered in Hiroshima in western
Japan, said it had not reported any change to regulators in
plans for the 1,373 megawatt (MW) No.3 boiling water reactor,
but work had been halted on key parts returned to a manufacturer
in northeast Japan for cleaning.

The manufacturer, Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd ,
suffered damage to its plant in Hitachi city during this month’s
devastating earthquake and tsunami, while many of the company’s
engineers had gone to work at the Fukushima nuclear plant,
delaying other projects.

Chugoku Electric said no damage had been reported to the
control rod drives sent to Hitachi city last month, which will
be reinstalled in the new reactor at the utility’s existing
Shimane nuclear plant.

“We understand a lack of manpower at the manufacturer is
resulting in a delay for us. The Fukushima Daiichi plant is now
its first priority and the most important issue for the
country,” a Chugoku Electric official told a news conference.

The utility had also said two weeks ago that it would put on
hold preparations for building a new nuclear plant at Kaminoseki
after the regional government called for additional work to
ensure safety. [ID:nTKZ006840]

The new facility, scheduled to begin commercial operation in
March 2018, would be key for Chugoku Electric to reduce its
relatively high reliance on coal-fired plants.

The company gave no further information on Monday regarding
when it might resume preparation work on Kaminoseki, which is
under close scrutiny for indications of Japan’s post-Fukushima
nuclear policy because it is the next new nuclear power plant
scheduled to begin construction.

“Kaminoseki will be a test case,” Chiaki Hasegawa, deputy
general manager of the utility’s Tokyo Office, said on the
sidelines of the news conference.

“There is a headwind blowing after the accident and another
headwind will follow from the antinuclear movement.”

Despite the halt in preparations, Chugoku Electric said on
Monday that it planned to spend 35 billion yen ($430 million) in
the business year starting on April 1 for preparation work on
Kaminoseki, almost four times the amount spent this year.

That amount would rise to 51 billion yen in 2012/13, with
the aim of beginning construction of a facility on reclaimed
land in June 2012.

Chugoku Electric also provided no new information on a
restart date for its 460 MW No.1 reactor at the Shimane plant,
which has been shut for a year after the company failed to
adhere to maintenance requirements.
($1 = 81.325 Japanese Yen)

(Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

Chugoku Elec says may delay March 2012 reactor launch