Japanese officials ask KEPCO to break away from nuclear energy

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Throughout the past year, international government and state utility officials have said what happened in Fukushima, Japan, could never occur at any other nuclear power station in the world.  In Osaka Japan, a joint prefectural committee has recommended that the city issue a demand to Kansai Electric Power Company (KEPCO) to shut down its nuclear facilities, and rely on renewable energy resources, a move which could prompt other shareholders to follow suit.

The proposal came after the mayors of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe asked KEPCO for a clear timetable for when it would begin to break away from nuclear power, and had been told that KEPCO had no plans to keep such an “important energy resource”.  Kansai Electric wants to restart at least two of its 11 reactors, now all offline, after the nuclear watchdog this month said the units “passed” stress tests – computer simulations evaluating reactions to severe events.  Kansai Electric Power is expected to forecast a net loss of more than 200 billion yen for the current business year to the end of March 2012, marking the utility’s biggest annual loss ever, the Nikkei business daily said on Saturday.

“In light of the March 11 incident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant…should a critical incident hit Kansai Electric Power Co’s region…it is clear that citizens’ lives and economic activities would be greatly affected,” the mayors said in their submission to Kansai Electric’s president, Makoto Yagi.  “We should therefore create a power supply system not dependent on nuclear power as early as possible.”  A poll by the Tokyo Shimbun over the weekend, reveals that 80 per cent of the 3000 people surveyed want Japan to phase out its reliance on nuclear power, according toJapan Today.

Osaka is the largest shareholder in KEPCO’s stock, standing at 9 percent currently.  In addition to shutting down all of its nuclear plants and introducing renewable energy sources, the committee recommended that Kepco be forced to take stronger disaster-prevention measures at its atomic plants, and called for competition in the electricity distribution sector.  The cities of Kyoto and Kobe, which are also shareholders of the utility, and when combined with Osaka’s shares total 12.5 percent of the utilities shares.

Osaka’s draft proposal also calls on Kansai Electric to devise absolutely secure measures for ensuring the safety of its nuclear facilities and disposing of spent fuel.  The government has been pushing so-called stress tests to assuage public concerns about nuclear reactor safety. In February, Kansai Electric’s Ohi No. 3 and 4 reactors were the first reactors in the country to pass such tests, winning approval from the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.  But such tests only calculate the possibility of a meltdown based on a computer simulation.

Pressure on Kepco to end its dependence on nuclear power continues to grow.   The citizens of Japan have formed citizens groups which in February 2012 collected enough signatures to push the city to vote on a referendum on nuclear power.

“In the event of an accident, it’s clear that, with Kepco’s 11 reactors, there will be a huge impact on lives and the economy. It’s necessary to (create) an electricity supply (stragegy) that does not rely on nuclear power as soon as possible,” the three mayors said in a joint statement submitted to Kepco in late February.

The city also aims to propose reducing the number of the utility’s executives and employees.  But in its formal reply late last week, Kepco defended the use of nuclear power and offered only general assurances it was introducing more renewable energy plants.

“From the standpoint of energy security, economic feasibility and environmental conservation, nuclear power will continue to remain important,” Kepco said.

“It’s necessary to eradicate the distrust Japanese people have toward nuclear power,” the committee said in a statement.


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