The new head of Japan’s biggest electric company aired concerns about the possibility that Japan could phase out nuclear power, saying such a move would necessitate a “complete” revamping of its investment and fuel-procurement plans and could be detrimental to the country’s energy security as well.
“Based on Japan’s past experience (of oil shortages in the 1970s), it’d be wiser to have diversity” in Japan’s energy mix, both in the kinds of fuels used and the places they are bought from, Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., 9501.TO -0.81 percent said in an interview Wednesday. After the oil shocks, “we had to sharply hike rates twice, and Japanese society fell into chaos,” he said.
Hirose’s comments come the week before the administration of prime minister Yoshihiko Noda is expected to announce a long-awaited decision on Japan’s future energy mix, following last year’s devastating accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant. Japanese utilities and many big business have come out strongly in support of maintaining the country’s nuclear fleet, which supplied around 30 percent of the country’s electricity before the accident.
But public opinion polls have consistently shown a majority of the population favours elimination of nuclear power, and Noda’s government is now leaning toward recommending a phase-out by 2030.
That puts Tepco in a delicate situation: The utility is the owner and operator of the Fukushima Daiichi plant and is widely blamed by both the public and investigatory panels as not having been sufficiently prepared for the disasters that caused the accident. But it also operates the country’s biggest nuclear-power facility, the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture. It is depending on that plant to come back online soon in order to bolster finances drained by the cost of compensating victims of the accident as well as buying expensive fossil fuels to make up for the loss of nuclear power.
The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, along with all but two of Japan’s reactors, remains temporarily shut down in the face of public fear about safety.
“We will explain to local communities how we’ll prevent the same things from happening” as occurred at Fukushima Daiichi, said Hirose. “We’ll restart Kashiwazaki-Kariwa only if these communities accept our explanations.”
Despite the uncertainty surrounding the restart of the plant, Hirose said the company has no plans so far to revise a turnaround plan that calls for at least one reactor at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa to restart by April 2013.
If no reactors come back online for the long term, Tepco will have to rely more on liquefied natural gas, as it replaces inefficient, oil-fired temporary turbines set up right after the Fukushima accident with permanent and more efficient gas-fired power plants, Hirose said.
“LNG is the best option to make up for nuclear power, both in terms of cost and carbon dioxide (emissions), so we’ll have to increase the amount of LNG we buy,” he said.
If the nuclear outage continues for a long time, “we’ll need a complete rethinking” of the company’s plans for investing in new plants, including the possibility of building full-scale gas-powered plants, Hirose said.