Japan to face tight power supply in summer; blackouts not expected

TOKYO - Japan's power supply will be tight this summer if all its nuclear reactors remain shut, although blackouts are not expected as long as there are no problems at the thermal fuel plants now providing the bulk of the country's electricity.

Overall, the nine local power monopolies will have a supply surplus of 4.6 per cent in August, barely above the 3 per cent minimum required, if their nuclear reactors remain shut due to the prolonged safety checks by the nuclear regulator, the trade ministry panel on power projected on Thursday.

Japan's power companies have been struggling to provide stable supplies despite efforts to maximise output from costly fossil fuel plants and build new coal- and gas-fired units. The Fukushima disaster of March 2011 prompted the prolonged reactor shutdowns and lengthy rigorous safety checks.

Utilities in western Japan that relied on nuclear energy for as much as half of their power supply in the past are the worst off. Blackout should be avoided, though, as companies swap power amongst themselves to keep overall supply above the minimum. "By taking into account all possible supply sources we expect to barely secure the minimum 3 per cent margin necessary for stable supplies," Kyushu Electric said in a statement. "But we would see a very severe supply/demand situation if there were troubles at fossil fuel-fired plants."

Kansai Electric, supplier of nearly a fifth of Japan's power, and Kyushu Electric barely achieved the minimum 3 per cent margin, the lowest of the nine companies, even after receiving power from Tokyo Electric in eastern Japan and help from other western utilities.

Kyushu's Sendai nuclear plant in southwestern Japan is on the fast-track for the safety review by the Nuclear Regulation Authority, and the plant's two reactors are the only ones among the nation's 48 that could resume power generation this summer, possibly as early as August.

Kyushu Electric did not factor into its summer outlook the possible restart of the Sendai plant or the restart of the trouble-hit 1 gigawatt coal-fired Matsuura No.2 unit operated by Electric Power Development (J-Power).