Power scandal in Japan may result in outages on U.S. bases this summer
Stars and Stripes June 5, 2003
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — U.S. military installations on Japan’s Kanto Plain may experience power outages this summer if nuclear reactors at the region’s largest electricity provider remain idle.
Sixteen of Tokyo Electric Power Company’s 17 reactors are still shut following a cover-up of false safety reports documenting voluntary inspections.
TEPCO officials last month estimated its power supply could fall 9.5 million kilowatts short of demand this summer in the event of a heat wave, according to Japan Times.
U.S. Forces Japan officials aren’t speculating on whether TEPCO or Japan’s government will be forced to schedule brownouts or issue restrictions. They expect to know more after a June 13 meeting with TEPCO and Japanese government officials, said Col. Mike Weber, USFJ’s logistics director.
If TEPCO can’t meet consumer demand, U.S. bases likely would be affected, Weber said.
“It could happen to us, just like it happens anywhere else,” he said. “We’re just another TEPCO customer.”
The largest private power company in the world, TEPCO provides electricity to residences, government facilities and commercial businesses in Tokyo and eight outlying prefectures. The company is the only commercial electrical power provider on the Kanto Plain.
When all TEPCO’s reactors are operating, the company supplies about 60 million kw of electricity, a TEPCO spokesman told Stars and Stripes. It could provide up to 70 million kw with power purchased from other facilities.
To compensate for idle nuclear reactors, TEPCO is using additional thermal and hydraulic power plants, a TEPCO spokesman said, including the Yokosuka oil-burning plant in Kanagawa Prefecture. Operations at that plant were halted several years ago because of its age and national conservation policies.
TEPCO’s capacity now — even considering the inactive reactors — is 50 million kw, the spokesman said. But that’s far short of the typical demand during Tokyo’s stifling summer heat. For example, on July 24, 2001, when the temperature soared to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, 64.3 million kw were used.
Weber said in the event of a power outage, each military base has emergency generators kick into gear for certain facilities such as the hospital and command and control centers.
“Each installation has their own plan for that,” he said.
USFJ is making sure its emergency generators are working, and installations should be notifying base residents “that there may be some effects” due to the TEPCO situation, said Marine Corps Master Sgt. Leah Gonzalez, a USFJ spokeswoman.
The critical power-use months are typically from July to September, Weber said, when air conditioners are cranked.
He did not know how much energy U.S. bases on the Kanto Plain use.
“It’s got to be a drop in the bucket” as a percentage of the Kanto Plain’s total consumption, he said.
The Japan Times reported that cracks were found in the shrouds and piping of many of TEPCO’s reactors in the seven months of checks since the cover-up was discovered last August. TEPCO officials said they are trying to fix the problem and are asking customers to conserve energy.
“We greatly feel sorry to ask people to conserve energy due to our misconduct last summer,” the TEPCO official said.
Master Sgt. Gerardo Salazar, Yokota’s energy conservation manager, said there are numerous ways people can conserve energy.
Try to keep the thermostat at 78 degrees, he said. Central AC units on Yokota run at maximum efficiency at that temperature; for every degree below 78, energy consumption increases by 2 percent.
Other tips from Salazar: Turn off the computer when it is not in use. “The screen saver still consumes the same amount of energy.”
And switch incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent ones. The quality of light is the same, but energy consumption is less, he said. Fluorescent bulbs are free at Yokota’s Self-Help Store.