Gov't withheld estimates showing electricity surplus to boost nuclear power: critics

The government withheld an estimate that there would be no electricity shortages in the upcoming summer in an apparent bid to underscore the need to restart nuclear power plants, it has been learned.

Instead of announcing the realistic estimate, the government announced last summer that electric power supply in the summer of 2012 “will be about 10 percent short across the country.” Furthermore, the released government estimate greatly downplayed the supply of renewable energy, disregarding the country’s actual energy status.

“The released government estimate stresses the need to resume operations of nuclear power plants by underestimating the actual supply capacity,” a concerned source has told the Mainichi.

Currently, 49 out of 54 commercial nuclear reactors in Japan are under suspension, with five other reactors anticipating regular inspections. By this summer, the country will have no nuclear reactors in operation unless some of them are restarted.

The government’s Energy and Environment Council compiled the published estimate in July last year as the council was reviewing the country’s energy strategy in the aftermath of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, which began in March last year. The council calculated that power supply will be 9.2 percent short at the peak of demand on the assumption that the summer of 2012 will be as hot as the summer of 2010, when temperatures hit record highs, and that all nuclear plants will have been suspend by that time.

Aside from the estimate, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan instructed a team assisting him in the National Policy Unit in late June last year to study the actual status of electric power and supply. The team asked the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry to submit data supporting the government’s estimate, including the installed capacity and operating capacity at each power station and the operational status of renewable energy sources by region, and had the ministry recalculate the estimate.

As a result, it was found that electric power companies were capable of procuring 7.59 million kilowatts through renewable energy under the current law — equal to the output of about seven nuclear reactors. However, the released government estimate stated that utilities were unable to provide renewable energy supplies.

In addition, the released estimate apparently deliberately presumed that some of the thermal power plants would be suspended in August — a peak-demand period — for regular inspections and also anticipated that there would be no cut in power use at the time of a power crunch through the supply-demand adjustment arrangement with major electricity contractors. The estimate also played down the supply capacity of pumped-storage hydroelectricity, which utilizes night-time surplus power during the daytime.

The recalculation found that the country would have a surplus power supply of up to 6 percent even without a government order for power restrictions if renewable energy supply and other elements were factored in. The recalculated data was compiled in August last year and was reported to Prime Minister Kan, but it was never released to the public.

Satoshi Kusakabe, councilor to the Cabinet Secretariat, who is in charge of the Energy and Environment Council, denied that the government withheld the estimate in order to underscore the need to reactivate suspended nuclear reactors.

“In the nation’s decision-making process, we wouldn’t be able to later say that we were actually short of power, so we carefully compiled an estimate that had solid figures,” he said. “We had no intention of propagating possible supply shortages and cited an increase of renewable energy and thermal power supply as necessary efforts in a countermeasure released in November last year.”

Hisashi Kajiyama, research fellow at the Fujitsu Research Institute, who was a member of the team assisting Kan and took part in the recalculation of the estimate, said the initial estimate was biased. “The (released) estimate is based on the extreme presumption that was drawn from claims by utilities. The figures in the estimate led to politicians’ remarks approving the restarting of nuclear plants. I assume the Kan administration couldn’t release the recalculation because of the chaos in the final days of his administration.”

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