Online publication Deep Blue Group

Govt to compile energy safeguard steps

The government will begin full-fledged work to compile measures to safeguard energy supply bases, aimed at minimizing the impact of large-scale disasters on economic activities.

The measures will be designed to cope with possible damage in the event of such predicted disasters as a massive Nankai Trough earthquake and a quake directly hitting the Tokyo metropolitan area.

In the three years since the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, it has become an urgent task to strengthen energy supply bases, especially electric power plants and oil refineries, which are concentrated along the Pacific coast.

On Friday, Hisayoshi Ando, director general of the Kanto Bureau of Economy, Trade and Industry, said, “If an earthquake occurs in the Nankai Trough or directly hits the Tokyo metropolitan area, the impact around the nation will be immense.”

Ando made the remark at a discussion forum held in Tokyo on strengthening energy supply bases in the Kanto region, sponsored by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Seismological experts have estimated about a 70 percent chance of a quake of magnitude 8 to 9 with an epicenter along the Nankai Trough occurring within 30 years.

Experts have also predicted a 70 percent likelihood of a huge quake directly hitting the Tokyo metropolitan area.

In addition to the human cost, up to about ¥220 trillion in economic damage is predicted to occur in the Nankai Trough quake, as well as up to about ¥95 trillion in a quake directly hitting the Tokyo metropolitan area.

The predicted earthquakes will also inflict direct damage on facilities linked to the energy supply. In industrial zones located along the Pacific coast, including the Pacific Belt stretching from the southern Kanto region down to the Kyushu region, 79 percent of the nation’s oil refineries producing gasoline and other petroleum products are concentrated.

In addition, the zone covers 86 percent of the terminals for liquefied natural gas, a substance used to produce city gas, 84 percent of thermal power plants using LNG as fuel and 60 percent of thermal power plants using petroleum as fuel.

If the supply of electricity, natural gas, gasoline and other energy resources is disrupted, telecommunication channels such as telephones and the Internet, will be affected. Railways and other transportation systems will be paralyzed.

Medical services for those who are injured will also be crippled. The negative impact of suspended operations of manufacturing plants and others on the Japanese economy will be immeasurable.

Therefore, the government is considering such measures as moving inland those thermal power plants and other energy supply bases concentrated along the Pacific coast or increasing the number of such facilities in the Sea of Japan coastal areas.

Kobe Steel Ltd. is implementing a plan to build a thermal power plant at an inland site. Executive Vice President Hiroaki Fujiwara said, “If the government shortens the period needed for environmental assessments, it will be easier for our corporation to make decisions.”

In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Tohoku Electric Power Co. had to conduct rotating blackouts in their respective service areas. Because eastern and western Japan use different power frequencies, the electrical power that could be supplied from power companies in western Japan was limited.

Another task is building systems in which energy is supplied from areas not at risk of being damaged in a disaster.

The government is implementing a plan to increase facilities for converting power frequencies so that the maximum electric power volume that can be shared between eastern and western Japan will be raised from the current 900,000 kilowatts to 2.1 million kilowatts.

Reactivation of reactors at nuclear power plants located along the Sea of Japan will also contribute to securing electric power.

As there are no pipelines allowing major cities to share city gas, it is essential to create such a system.

However, fortifying energy supply bases and diversifying their locations will be extremely expensive. As early as May, the government will compile a national resilience basic plan.

It is an urgent task to compile and implement practical plans and measures on how to secure energy supply in the event of a disaster.

“To prepare for a huge disaster that could occur at any time, we must urgently strengthen our energy supply bases,” said Prof. Akira Morita of Gakushuin University’s Faculty of Law, a crisis management expert. “But preparing for disasters creates a heavy burden for private companies. The government should present a broad vision of the national resilience plan and consider financial assistance depending on the situation. Amid tight fiscal conditions, obtaining the public’s understanding is essential. The public and private sectors need to join forces in advancing such efforts.”