May 6, 2012 / 8:56 AM / 7 years ago

Nuclear-free Japan braces for severe power shortages

 By Leika Kihara	
 TOKYO, May 6 (Reuters) - The shutdown of Japan's last
working nuclear power plant and the government's failure to
convince a wary public about restoring production at dozens of
reactors leaves the world's third largest economy facing another
summer of severe power shortages.	
 Hokkaido Electric Power Co shut its nuclear plant
late on Saturday - the last of Japan's 50 reactors to go off
line - marking the first time since 1970 Japan has been nuclear
 Japan's $5 trillion economy has relied heavily on nuclear
power for decades, with its reactors providing almost 30 percent
of electricity needs, but last year's massive earthquake and
subsequent nuclear crisis spurred a public backlash against
atomic energy.	
 Cabinet ministers have largely failed to win over the public
to allow the restart of the country's plants - shut one by one
for scheduled maintenance and unable to resume operations
because of concerns about safety.	
 Japan's Asahi newspaper said public sentiment was "wavering
between two sources of anxiety" - fear over the safety of
nuclear power and doubts on whether Japan can live without it.	
 "The public shouldn't just criticise (the government) but
make its own decision on energy policy that involves burden and
responsibility, such as through cooperating in power saving,"
the paper said in an editorial on Sunday.	
 The government hopes to come up with an estimate by mid-May
of expected shortages this summer, and will then produce a plan
to conserve energy that could include compulsory curbs on use of
power, Japanese media say.	
 But setting a long-term energy policy or a clear timeframe
for restarting the plants will take time given strong public
opposition and a divided parliament that has paralysed
policy-making, analysts say.	
 Policymakers are worried about the damage to the budding
economic recovery as the power shortages are expected to be more
severe and widespread than last summer, when many areas in Japan
were still running nuclear reactors.	
 Some also warn of the long-term fallout as the rising cost
of electricity, coupled with a strong yen, hits production and
could prompt companies to shift operations overseas.	
 "Depending on the weather, power supply could constrain
output during the summer," the Bank of Japan said.	
 "But we must be mindful not just of such short-term effects
but the chance (the power shortages) could hurt Japan's medium-
and long-term growth expectations," the central bank said in a
twice-yearly report on the economy issued on April 27.	
 Japan managed to get through the summer last year without
any blackouts by imposing voluntary curbs on the use of power in
the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami that left thousands
 Factories operated at night and during weekends to avoid
putting too much stress on the country's power grids. Many big
firms are already preparing to take similar steps this summer,
but some also plan to generate power themselves to cut costs.	
 The last time Japan went without nuclear power was in May
1970, when the country's only two reactors operating at that
time were shut for maintenance, the Federation of Electric Power
Companies of Japan said.	
 (Editing by Jeremy Laurence)	
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