Japan Hokuriku eyes rolling blackouts in summer

TOKYO (Reuters) – Northwest Japanese utility Hokuriku Electric Power Co said on Thursday it may impose rolling blackouts in the summer for the first time in six decades if the two reactors at its sole nuclear plant remain shut for an extended period.

Hokuriku said that before restarting the reactors it would impose extra safety measures the government has nuclear operators to implement in a bid to prevent similar incidents to the ongoing crisis at a plant in the country’s northeast, triggered by a strong earthquake and tsunami last month.

“We still have some time before the summer, but as the possibility of rolling blackouts exists … we’re letting our customers know (about the risk),” Yukio Matsuoka, a vice president at Hokuriku, one of the smallest regional power firms in Japan, said at a news conference.

Power demand is typically higher in the summer as customers switch on their air conditioners.

Based on pre-quake demand estimates, the company said it would only be able to generate 90 megawatts of power above peak demand in the summer if the two reactors remained shut.

Hokuriku also said this would represent only about 2 percent more power than estimated peak demand at the time and that the firm has guidelines saying it should be able to supply at least 8 percent.

“A level below 8 percent would be an amber light for the company,” Matsuoka said.

But power demand could be lower than expected, depending on the recovery in business activity in the aftermath of the March 11 quake and tsunami, Matsuoka added.

In late February, Hokuriku, headquartered in Toyama prefecture, manually shut the 540 MW No.1 reactor at its sole Shika plant for unplanned repair work.

The 1,358 MW No.2 reactor at the facility is currently under planned maintenance that had been due to end in June.

The company began planned maintenance on the No.2 reactor on March 11, several hours before the magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami hit the northeast coast of Japan, triggering the world’s worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima nuclear complex.

Separately, there are also concerns of power shortages in the summer in Japan’s economic heartland around Tokyo, which Tokyo Electric covers. The Japanese government is considering ways to conserve electricity.

(Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Joseph Radford)

Japan Hokuriku eyes rolling blackouts in summer