Tokyo may face energy crisis, utility warns

Company seeks to restart 16 disputed nuclear plants

April 13, 2003|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TOKYO - Judging by the warnings of the electricity company here in the world's largest city, this will be a summer unlike all others, with severe power shortages and blackouts predicted.

Industry officials hedge these alarming forecasts with one big "if." The Tokyo Electric Power Co., or Tepco, says it will be able to keep its customers' tempers from boiling over only if it is allowed to press 16 nuclear power plants back into operation. The plants were temporarily taken out of service last year after a scandal over falsified inspections and poor maintenance.

The latest crisis in a long-running series of public relations and safety disasters for Japan's nuclear power industry began last fall, when cracks were discovered in the containment vessels of several nuclear reactors. It was found that engineers had been routinely falsifying repair records, including those for one of the several Tepco plants in Fukushima, where a serious leak of radioactive liquids was hushed up. To regain the confidence of residents of areas near nuclear reactors, the company closed 16 of its 17 atomic plants until inspections and repairs could be performed.

Anti-nuclear activists

Citizen groups and anti-nuclear activists say the electric industry is trying to pull another fast one.

"This is just an excuse for Tepco to resume operation of its atomic plants," said Kazuyoshi Sato, leader of an anti-nuclear group in Fukushima, a city nearly 200 miles north of Tokyo. "Even without the nuclear plants, Tepco will have 58 million kilowatts of capacity. They say the demand will be 64 million kilowatts, but in most years the peak has been about 59 million kilowatts."

Recently, Sato, and other opponents of nuclear power have begun to use distinctly American-sounding "not in my back yard" arguments, noting that almost all of the company's reactors are located in distant towns, far outside the company's Tokyo service area.

"They may be able to manipulate consumers in the Tokyo area, but this is still a big scandal here in Fukushima," Sato said. "We don't get our electricity from Tepco, so we think it's time for people in Tokyo to begin making some sacrifices."

Conservation urged

The power company paints a different picture with its supply-and-demand data and says that unless at least 10 of its suspended reactors come back online before the hottest days of summer, there will be a crisis.

The company is urging consumers to think creatively about conservation. The advice has run from the obvious - run air conditioners as little as possible - to the arcane. In a country where many people have electrical toilets with heated seats, fancy jets for rinsing and fans for drying, the power company is urging people to keep the lids down when not in use.

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