Japan asks businesses and public to save energy to avoid Tokyo blackout

The Japanese government on Monday called on businesses and the public in the Tokyo area to reduce their electricity consumption, saying a lack of generation capacity risked plunging the capital into a blackout.

The blackout alert, the second this year after a warning issued in March, is likely to reignite contentious debate over restarting Japan’s nuclear power plants ahead of elections to the upper house of parliament in July.

The electricity crisis comes as countries around the world reassess the need for nuclear power plants following restrictions on Russian gas exports caused by the war in Ukraine.

Japan’s energy policy has been crippled since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster shut down most of its nuclear reactors, which previously provided around a third of the country’s electricity. The suspension of nuclear production has deepened Japan’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels even as it pledges to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

After Russia invaded Ukraine, European countries also restarted old coal-fired power plants as an emergency measure. But some countries are reconsidering their plans to shut down existing nuclear power plants due to concerns about rising emissions.

While public opposition in Japan is still strong, addressing the nuclear issue before the July 10 upper house elections would be politically risky for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. But experts say the electricity shortage is likely to intensify the debate if the ruling Liberal Democrat party wins a landslide election victory.

“The government is running out of options,” said Noriaki Oba, energy analyst and founder of the Post-oil Strategy Institute.

“With the power shortage happening coincidentally before the election, there are people who think the issue can be advanced if the election result is strong,” Oba said. But he warned that any resolution of the nuclear standoff would require restoring public trust and reassessing the safety review of nuclear power plants.

Lights have been dimmed at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to save electricity © Issei Kato/Reuters

The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has urged businesses and residents in and around Tokyo to reduce their electricity consumption, saying the supply was particularly tight late Monday afternoon . The ministry has asked households and businesses to set their air conditioners above 28°C. He said the public should avoid using irons and other power-hungry appliances.

Temperatures in the Tokyo area have topped 35°C after a record end to the annual rainy season.

The warning, which was also issued on Tuesday, came after power reserves in the region were expected to fall below 5% of total capacity. Between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., the ratio of electricity demand to supply capacity is expected to reach 96 percent, according to the regional utility Tokyo Electric Power Company.

In March, this ratio reached 103% after a strong earthquake in northeastern Japan caused the suspension of several thermal power plants.

The situation is less serious than in March since more electricity can be produced from solar panels during the sunny summer months. But tight supplies are expected to continue as the heat wave increases the use of air conditioners.

In an interview with the Financial Times in early June, Nomura chief executive Kentaro Okuda pointed to the threat of blackouts in Tokyo as one of the few signs that Japan was entering a “new paradigm” that would force the government and business to rethink change management.

“Whether [a blackout in March] had happened, the manufacturers could not have continued. We must therefore invest in new energies and consider alternatives. We may need to invest in climate technology. . . new supply chains and trade chains will have to be created,” Okuda said.

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