Shutdown of Japan’s Last Nuclear Reactor Raises Power Concerns

Japan’s last operating nuclear reactor was halted for maintenance yesterday, leaving the country nuclear free for the first time since July 2012 and prompting concerns about power availability this winter.

Kansai Electric Power Co., which powers Japan’s second-biggest metropolitan area, halted the Number 4 reactor at its Ohi plant at 11 p.m. yesterday, according to a faxed statement. Ohi’s Number 3 reactor was idled earlier this month.

The Ohi reactors were the only to restart after the March 2011 tsunami swamped Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima facility in March 2011, causing a meltdown at the plant. Japan, which got about 30 percent of its electricity from nuclear power before the Fukushima disaster, now has all 50 of its operational reactors lying idle. The reactors will have to pass new safety standards before being restarted.

Japan may not have enough capacity in winter without nuclear power, Makoto Yagi, chairman of the Federation of Electric Power Cos., told reporters in Tokyo on Sept. 13. Japan’s 10 regional power companies are still assessing winter power demand and supply, Yagi said.

Premiums for oil burned in power stations are forecast to extend a three-month advance as the shutdown leaves utilities little choice but to increase use of the fuel.

The Ohi atomic plant is located about 95 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Osaka. It helps power the Kansai area of western Japan that’s about the size of Belgium, has an economy worth $1 trillion and is home to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto as well as factories of Sharp Corp. and Panasonic Corp.

The reactors at the plant restarted in July last year after closing in March 2012. Under Japanese regulations, reactors have to undergo maintenance at least once every 13 months.

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