Japan recommended closing a nuclear power station that was undamaged by the March earthquake and tsunami, boosting precautions to address safety concerns in a step that risks worsening the nation’s power shortages.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan has asked Chubu Electric Power Co., the country’s third-biggest utility, to shut all reactors at its Hamaoka plant southwest of Tokyo. The government has estimated there is an 87 percent chance of an 8-magnitude earthquake in the area near the plant within the next 30 years, he said at an evening press conference today.
“Operations at the reactors should be suspended until measures are taken over the medium term, such as building a coastal levee to endure such a quake,” Kan said. The government will take steps to ensure Japan has sufficient electricity supplies, he said.
The call to shut reactors is the government’s first since the March 11 disaster crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in northeastern Japan, triggering the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years. Power shortages have been forecast for Tokyo and nearby prefectures in the summer season and companies have been urged to curb usage by as much as a quarter to help conserve supplies.
“It could well lead to further difficulties for businesses across the country,” said David Rea, Japan economist at Capital Economics Ltd. in London. “The greater the impact on nuclear, the more base generation will need to rely on fossil fuels. That will be costly as Japan will need to import more.”
A person who answered the phone at Chubu Electric’s press office declined to comment and didn’t identify himself. Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said closing the Hamaoka facility won’t lead to rolling blackouts.
Two Reactors Running
Two reactors at the Hamaoka plant remained running after the March temblor, Japan’s strongest on record. A third reactor has been shut since November for maintenance, while two others are in the process of being scrapped.
Chubu Electric said last month it may start the No. 3 reactor by the end of June. The Hamaoka plant, 189 kilometers (117 miles) southwest of Tokyo, lies off the coast of Suruga Bay that Japan monitors extensively for heightened seismic activity.
In 2007, Chubu Electric won a court ruling allowing the utility to continue operating the plant. The Shizuoka District Court rejected the plaintiff’s claim that the utility had underestimated the size of earthquakes that could hit the plant and the potential for serious damage to its aging reactors.