Myth of TEPCO’s Power Shortage: Tokyo can survive without nuclear power! Nuke Info Tokyo No. 96

*The power supply capacity is compiled according to TEPCO’s data. In addition, TEPCO could increase its supply capacity provided by outside of TEPCO’s facilities, not reflected in offcial data.

As of August 31, 11 of the 17 nuclear power units operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) are still not running. The 17 nuclear power units, which have an output of 17,308 MW, are 6 units at Fukushima No. 1, 4 units at Fukushima No. 2 and 7 units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa. Operation at all 17 power units was suspended on April 15 as a result of the “Trouble concealment”, which was found last year on August 29. The operation at all nuclear power units was suspended for three weeks, one by one the units were started again and by August 27 the six unit had been put into operation again.

Seeing that the operation at many power stations had been suspended, the mass media unanimously instigated a sense of crisis by announcing that a major blackout could occur in Tokyo. By reporting exaggerated estimates for the maximum electricity demand as if these numbers were already an accomplished fact, TEPCO maintained that its supply capacity would fall short of the power demand. However, in reality Japan experienced a relatively cool summer, so that electricity demand for air conditioners was not stretched. As a result, capacities were not fully used. TEPCO estimated 64.5GW, but there were only three days that exceeded 55GW (the maximum was 56.5GW).

As soon as some of the power stations started to operate again, the mass media reported that “the crisis had been avoided”. Preparations for blackouts and appeals for electricity saving seem to have been only a transient phenomenon.

There are three lessons, which we should learn from this incident. First of all, nuclear power is itself a threat to the stability of electricity supply. Secondly, in spite of the suspension of the operation of more than 10 of TEPCO’s reactors, a power outage did not occur. And last but not least, we came to realize that preparations for a power outage and a reexamining of energy consumption are important. Unfortunately, a large part of the media has served only to obscure this important lessons.

Nuclear Power caused “the crisis”

That the restarting of the nuclear power stations has helped to avoid the crisis, as reported by the media, is flawed in two ways. Firstly, the electricity supply can be satisfied even when none of the power stations are operating. Secondly, the belief that nuclear power saved us from the crisis conceals the fact in the first place.

I will talk about the first item later. For now I would like to examine the cause for the power crisis. The opinion that nuclear power stations invite electricity supply crisis is not exactly a new notion. We have been pointing out for a long time that a serious accident at a nuclear power facility would lead to the stoppage of power stations in the same area or of the same type and that this would in turn lead to a shortfall in electricity supply. In fact, when the accident at the Three Mile Island No. 2 reactor occured in March, 1979, all the PWR type reactor was forced to shut down here in Japan. However, with relatively small number of reactors (8 units) and small share with other sources of generation, concern for such a power shortage did not occur. The power supply crisis of this time shows how a similar situation could occur due to the exposure of electric power company’s dishonest act.

If this is so, the crisis has not been diminished one bit by the restarting of the nuclear power stations. The risk can be reduced by further diversifying and dispersing our energy sources.

No power outage

Under the pretext that a power outage had to be avoided, TEPCO pressed to restart some of its reactors. However, as pointed out before, the restart was not necessary. Tokyo could have survived the crisis even without nuclear power. Actually, electricity received from other power companies includes electricity from nuclear power stations. But even if this had been zero, it would have been possible for Tokyo to ride out the crisis — of course, under the presumption that a real effort was made to save energy.

However, at this point the meaning of the existence of nuclear power plants needs to be questioned. In fact, if people started to seriously save energy, this would also cause problems. If TEPCO can say that thanks to the restart of nuclear power units the electricity crisis could be avoided, nuclear power can triumphantly play an active part in increasing electricity demand again. This is what TEPCO has in mind.

According to TEPCO’s ad, “at present 40% of the electricity for the metropolitan area is supplied by nuclear power stations in Fukushima Prefecture and Niigata Prefecture.” If in spite of the stoppage of these power stations, a blackout does not occur, then this can only mean that the atomic facilities are in excess. On the one hand nuclear power stations supply 40% of the electricity, but on the other hand thermal power stations are forced to stop operation for long periods and the rate of utilization capacity at those that are running is very low.

Even though the demand has not risen, many power stations have been built. Because of the increase of inflexible nuclear power stations, it became necessary to also build more thermal and pumped hydro power stations, which are able to regulate the supply amount. Furthermore, extra power stations are needed as backup, in case the nuclear power stations are stopped due to an accident. This is the reason for the existence of excess capacity.
Moreover, with the progress of the so-called “Liberalization of the Electric Power Sector,” the competition between the power companies becomes fiercer with each company trying to steal market share from other companies. Just like other power companies, TEPCO is desperately trying to increase its market share by lowering prices (especially rates for businesses, such as office buildings, which are at the center of electricity demand). In 2001 and 2002, before the demand increased, power rates were considerably lowered.
In the supply capacities announced by TEPCO, there was a hidden leeway since TEPCO was also able to buy electricity from other companies. However, this cannot be stretched indefinitely. Rather than increasing supply, curbing demand is more realistic and, of course, it also lowers the burden on the environment.

Don’t let it end just like that

At this occasion we would like to be at the helm of a society which consumes little energy. A blackout could occur at any time. Unlike this time, when it was predicted beforehand, we should recognize that this could occur without previous notice. If that is the case, then it is important to always prepare, so that when it happens there is no need for haste. If energy saving is seen as just a transient measure, then we might be faced with even stricter measures in future.

The energy saving which is in effect at the moment consists mainly of companies changing their operating days to the weekend and decreasing the numbers of elevators and lights in use. In the end, these are only temporary measures. The burden of the energy saving is passed on to the workers, who are inclined to think that they just want to get the energy saving over and done with as quickly as possible. You could say that this energy saving leads to the reaction “I just want the nuclear power stations to run again!” among the population.

Electricity is a convenient form of energy, which leads people to unconsciously consume more and more of it. I would like to think that the recent clamor caused by the danger of power shortages presents a good chance to reconsider the issue of energy consumption.

(Baku Nishio, CNIC co-director)

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