The Yomiuri ShimbunOne week has passed since an earthquake hit Hokkaido. Although the power supply stoppage that affected all of Hokkaido has been almost resolved, a serious power shortage continues. This difficulty must be overcome, with the public and private sector acting together.
The quake death toll has exceeded 40, and many others have been injured. A large number of people are still living at evacuation sites. The government must not pull back its helping hand to them.
After the quake, economic activities in Hokkaido stagnated. Shipments of agricultural and marine products stopped, and stores were forced to suspend their business one after another. As the power stoppage has been resolved, business activities have been returning to normal, but the crisis has not gone away.
The biggest cause for concern is the power shortage, which may last for a protracted period. Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko suggested the possibility that the Tomato-Atsuma thermal power plant, now suspended, will resume full-scale operations only in November or later.
The supply capacity that Hokkaido Electric Power Co. has secured thus far totals about 3.5 million kilowatts, about 10 percent short of the peak power demand of 3.8 million kilowatts. Although HEPCO will restart, in stages, operations at power stations that are now being inspected, there are also many decrepit plants, forcing HEPCO to do a balancing act to supply electricity to meet the demand.
Worse still, the demand for power will jump to more than 5 million kilowatts from autumn through winter when heating devices are used. Should the recovery of the power supply from the Tomato-Atsuma power plant — the biggest thermal power plant in Hokkaido — be delayed, rolling blackouts will become more of a real possibility.
The government assumes a method of having all of Hokkaido divided into 60 districts and stopping the power supply in each district for two hours in turn. If implemented, there would be an enormous adverse impact on people’s daily lives and economic activities. Such a development should be avoided as much as possible.
It is reasonable for the government to have called for saving power within Hokkaido. It is important to accumulate such steady efforts as unplugging electric appliances that are not being used and turning off some of the lights at offices.
When occasion demands, such supply-demand measures as asking factories and the like to refrain from using electricity could also become a task to be dealt with.
It is considered unavoidable to implement the power supply stoppage, which is meant to prevent power-generating equipment from being damaged. But it is necessary to examine whether the initial responses taken by HEPCO were appropriate.
The primary cause of the huge blackouts was that the power supply within Hokkaido depended excessively on the Tomato-Atsuma thermal power plant. HEPCO must assume heavy responsibility. There is no prospect for the Tomari nuclear power plant to resume operating. HEPCO must expedite its efforts to secure and diversify stable power sources.
The power transmission line through which Hokkaido receives electricity from Honshu has a supply capacity of only 600,000 kilowatts of power. Work is under way to raise the capacity to 900,000 kilowatts this fiscal year. Its further buildup will become a theme of discussion.
Due to such factors as a shortage of fuel stockpiles, the emergency power system failed to function well enough at some business firms and hospitals, causing turmoil there.
Public facilities such as hospitals and private companies, not only in Hokkaido, should reexamine their risk management system to be applied in the event of a disaster, including business continuity planning (BCP).