As concerns about a winter electrical power shortage grow stronger, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has directed Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Koichi Hagiuda to make sure that nine nuclear reactors are back online by the winter peak-use season.
In addition, Kishida emphasized, “The government will consider all policy options to ensure a stable supply of electricity through that period and into the future.”
We welcome the fact that the Kishida administration has finally offered a concrete plan for dealing with the energy crunch.
Nonetheless, the maximum of nine reactors the Prime Minister was referring to in his remarks are all owned by Kansai Electric Power Co. (KEPCO), Kyushu Electric Power Co., or Shikoku Electric Power Co, and have already passed safety inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority. Their restarting will also only have a limited impact.
There are no signs up to now that nuclear reactors in eastern Japan will be brought back online, even though that is where high demand has frequently led the electrical power supply to become tight.
It remains unclear what Kishida’s order will actually do to solve the acute ongoing electrical power shortage.
Maximum Use of Nuclear Power
In the past, the Prime Minister has said that he would like to see Japan “make maximum use of nuclear power.” If that is true, then he should take the lead in directly solving the electrical power pinch in eastern Japan head-on.
That is where Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), Tohoku Electric Power Co., and other regional power company reactors were taken offline following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, and none has been restarted.
Prime Minister Kishida has also called for restarting 10 thermal power plants. Those are in addition to the nine nuclear reactors he wants back online before winter.
Of course, even if the nine reactors in question are all up and running again, they will only be able to cover roughly 10% of Japan’s domestic electrical power consumption demand. Furthermore, while all of these reactors have already passed safety inspections, they are located in western Japan.
Power Shortage is in Eastern Japan
The power shortage warnings in March 2022 and power shortage advisories in June all occurred in eastern Japan, including the Tokyo metropolitan region. That is where the electrical power shortfall is especially severe.
In fact, it is projected that the reserve ratio for a stable supply of power, which should be maintained at a minimum of 3%, will plummet to 1.5% at the height of winter in January to February 2023 within the regions served by TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Co.
The amount of electricity generated by KEPCO that can be furnished to eastern Japan is also limited because of frequency conversion and power grid capacity bottlenecks. If Japan is to make optimum use of its nuclear reactors and ensure a stable supply of electrical power, more than anything else we need to reactivate reactors that are located in eastern Japan.
Inefficient Nuclear Regulatory Authority
In addition, Prime Minister Kishida has questioned the current situation in which reactor safety inspections by the Nuclear Regulation Authority proceed at a snail’s pace. He has emphasized that more efficiency is badly needed in the NRA’s safety inspection process.
Indeed, the safety inspections simply must be performed with greater speed and efficiency if we are to get the reactors up and running again soon. Making sure this happens will be a test of the Prime Minister’s leadership.
The government also proposes to increase the electrical power supply by restarting operations at dormant thermal power plants. However, the risk of accidents at antiquated power installations is high.
Japan needs a mechanism that will make possible the kind of continuing investment needed to ensure a stable supply of power.
(Read the editorial in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Editorial Board, The Sankei Shimbun