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Japan May Face Power Shortage - 2003-04-15

The utility company providing electricity to the Japanese capital is warning that Tokyo faces an acute power shortage following the shutdown of its last nuclear reactor. The unprecedented situation is the result of a series of scandals that have enveloped Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Warning that Japan's largest city could soon face its first blackout in years, Tokyo Electric Power on Tuesday completed the shutdown of all 17 of its nuclear reactors.

The company halted the reactors - for the first time since 1976 - for emergency inspections. Last year, TEPCO admitted having falsified repair records, creating the need for the inspections.

That means Tokyo Electric Power - known as TEPCO - is now without nearly one-third of its generating capacity. Japanese Trade Minister Takeo Hiranuma cautions that if the majority of the reactors are not back online by the time that millions of people start to switch on their air conditioners in a few months, there is likely to be a shortage of electricity. Mr. Hiranuma says if the situation continues for long, demand will outstrip supply and he cannot deny a blackout is possible.

Resource-poor Japan is heavily dependent on nuclear power - which generates about 30 percent of its electricity. TEPCO says it will try to make up for the shortfall by reactivating five thermal power plants and purchasing surplus electricity from other power companies.

Some anti-nuclear activists contend TEPCO is inflating the forecast demand for the coming summer in an attempt to pressure officials into giving approval to restart the reactors.

In recent years, the news media have reported about problems at TEPCO nuclear plants, including cracked reactor shrouds, fabricated readings for seals of radiation containment buildings and falsified repair records. Government inspectors have downplayed the seriousness of the infractions. But many Japanese living near the nuclear plants have grown skeptical of the repeated safety assurances.

Many TEPCO officials have lost their jobs in the past few years, including the chairman and president, in an attempt to regain public trust.

Anticipating that it will not be able to meet power demand, TEPCO is passing out fliers and airing television commercials asking customers to switch off unnecessary lights.