Japan Nuclear Plant Operator Scrambles Amid Shutdown Call

OMAEZAKI, Japan -- Faced with demands from the Japanese government for an immediate shutdown of its nuclear plant, Chubu Electric Power Co. was scrambling Sunday to find options that would fill the potential electricity void in the peak summer months.

A spokesman at Chubu Electric, the operator of the Hamaoka nuclear plant, said its chairman headed to Qatar on Saturday to procure additional liquefied natural gas (LNG) as part of an effort to seek alternative energy supplies. The chairman was set to meet with the chief executive of Qatar Gas and Qatar's energy minister, the spokesman said.

On Friday, Prime Minister Naoto Kan held a dramatic evening news conference demanding that Chubu Electric close its Hamaoka nuclear plant -- located near Omaezaki in a coastal area seen as vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis -- until it could bolster its safety procedures.

The company said its board met Saturday to consider the matter, but adjourned without making a decision about whether to accept Kan's demand. The board currently does not have another meeting scheduled.

If Chubu Electric was to suspend operations at Hamaoka, its only nuclear plant, the company said it would be slapped with additional fuel costs of ¥700 million ($8.7 million) a day. According to local media reports, that could force the company to lose money this year.

Chubu Electric gets 10.7 percent of its energy from the Hamaoka plant, with the rest coming from LNG, coal and other sources. Chubu Electric derives 46 percent of its electricity from LNG, and that number may rise if the chairman's negotiations at Qatar succeed.

The company's electricity supply was also constrained by the fact that it was supplying Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) with electricity after the March 11 earthquake and the subsequent shutdown of TEPCO's Fukushima plants.