The Japanese government is facing the stark reality that the country will experience prolonged power shortages this winter if the nation's nuclear power resources are sidelined.
Last week the Japanese government's energy and environment panel did an overview of the country's energy needs, reviewing government pronouncements that it would scale back the nation's dependence on nuclear energy. The committee concluded that, for the sake of the country's economy, the nation's nuclear power plants should be allowed to restart operations after their safety has been confirmed.
The government's energy and environment panel policy statement showed the government backtracking from the optimistic policy toward "denuclearization" suggested by Prime Minister Naoto Kan in the wake of the March 11 nuclear debacle at Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.
An earthquake and resulting tsunami took the six nuclear power plants operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co., offline. Those facilities were responsible for generating 20 percent of Tokyo's electricity, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.
Highlighting the government's problems is opposition from local governments hosting nuclear power plants and environmental groups radicalized by the Fukushima Dai-Ichi incident. That makes it extremely difficult to restart nuclear power reactors shut down in the wake of the incident for safety inspections.
Complicating the government's efforts, Junichi Matsumoto, a general manager at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant utility, said Monday that Tokyo Electric Power Co. had detected the highest radiation to date at the site. Geiger counters registered more than 10 sieverts an hour, the highest reading the devices are capable of indicating.
Accordingly, the government's directives for coping with the issue of immediate power supplies are to conserve the use of electricity rather than increase attempts to increase the national grid's supply capacity, labeled by a Democratic Party of Japan member an "energy-saving policy of endurance."
The new policy represents a retreat from statements by Kan, who on July 13 announced a major government shift toward denuclearization, with his administration considering making up the short-term energy shortages by making full use of private power-generation systems.
Kan also stated that among his administration's solutions to the shortages caused by Fukushima Dai-Ichi being inoperable, the nation's pumped-storage hydroelectricity capabilities, by which surplus power is used at night to pump water from a lower reservoir to a higher one and subsequently released through turbines to generate electricity at times of peak demand could assist in generating supplemental power.
In a more immediate solution to the country's energy shortfalls, the government intends to promote the introduction of smart meters into residences, which can track usage data in real time.