* Kerosene heater sales surge on uncertain power supplies
* Unclear if heater sales will mean higher kerosene demand
* Weather forecaster sees milder to normal winter in north
By Risa Maeda
TOKYO, Oct 25 Japan's kerosene heater sales more
than quadrupled in the six months to end-September, in part as
consumers brace for possible power shortages this winter,
although whether this leads to an actual rise in kerosene use
will depend on the weather and on power supplies, industries
officials said on Tuesday.
Oil companies in Japan have already piled up stocks of
kerosene at a pace about 20 percent higher than a year ago,
anticipating that worries over a reliable power supply for
electric heating will boost kerosene heater use, while many
households hit by the March tsunami have also bought new
But officials said it was unclear whether the surge in
heater purchases, shown in industry data on Tuesday, was aimed
at securing an emergency supply of heat in case of another
earthquake or power shortage, or if consumers would actually put
them to use heating their homes.
"It's difficult to assess demand for kerosene this winter
because we don't know why people are buying more kerosene
heaters," Petroleum Association of Japan President Akihiko Tembo
said at a news conference last week.
"Whether sales of kerosene come in higher than expected will
initially depend on how cold it is," he added.
On Tuesday, Japan's official weather forecaster said in its
monthly three-month forecast that Japan would see mostly milder
to average weather from November to January.
Japan's government and regional power companies are working
out plans to avoid rolling blackouts this winter, as the loss of
most of the country's nuclear power in the wake of the Fukushima
crisis crimps supplies while an increasing number of Japanese
households are relying on electric heat.
Public concerns over nuclear safety have kept reactors from
restarting after routine maintenance, leaving only 10 of Japan's
54 commercially operating reactors on line.
Four more reactors are due shut by the end of the year and
it is unclear when idled reactors may begin restarting, with
utilities wrapped up in what could become a prolonged series of
Kansai Electric Power Co , Shikoku Electric Power Co
and Kyushu Electric Power Co in western and
southern Japan are considered the likeliest to seek power cuts
this winter, due to their high reliance on nuclear power.
Kerosene heater sales in April-September have mostly been
traditional models that lack an electric fan to circulate hot
air, Japan Industrial Association of Gas and Kerosene Appliances
data showed, suggesting concerns about electricity supplies.
"A kerosene fan heater, which is safer and more convenient,
usually sells better than a simple one. But this time the latter
beat the former since it can be used without electricity," said
Ryo Kawahigashi, an association official.
Sales of traditional model heaters in April-September
reached their highest in at least a decade, at 761,000 units,
more than four times the year-ago figure of 168,000 and
surpassing the 464,000 fan heaters sold in that period.
(Editing by Edmund Klamann)