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TOKYO, April 28 (Reuters) - Chubu Electric Power Co said it is not committed to its presumed July restart of the No.3 reactor at its Hamaoka plant in central Japan while comments by the area’s prefectural governor suggest political obstacles may delay the restart.
The 1,100 megawatt No. 3 reactor has been shut since November for planned maintenance, and stricter safety measures since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami crippled Tokyo Electric Power Co’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant mean utilities now have to keep their reactors shut for longer periods under regular maintenance to make extra checks.
The central government has ordered nuclear power generators to take several immediate steps to ensure secure power supplies to systems that cool down reactors and spent fuel pools.
The Hamaoka plant, 200 kilometres (120 miles) southwest of Tokyo, sits near an active earthquake zone that the government has forecast carries an 87 percent chance of producing a magnitude-8 or stronger earthquake in the next 30 years.
Heita Kawakatsu, governor of Shizuoka Prefecture, said on Thursday that Chubu Electric had not done enough to meet the central government’s newly imposed safety regulations.
“With regard to tsunami countermeasures for their nuclear plant, they have done virtually nothing. Under the current situation, my view is that it would be extremely difficult to resume operations in July,” Kawakatsu told a briefing for reporters shown on public broadcaster NHK.
Chubu Electric, Japan’s third-biggest power company, has presumed a July restart for the No.3 reactor in setting its earnings and operations targets for the fiscal year to next March, which were announced on Thursday.
But Kazuhiko Okabe, general manager of Chubu Electric’s Tokyo office, played down the significance of the restart date.
“We’re not saying our schedule is fixed and that we aim to meet it,” Okabe told a news conference.
“We understand we should follow the right procedures, first getting approval from the central government and then from the regional governments.”
The central Japan utility said it expected its nuclear plant run rate to average around 84 percent in the current business year — up sharply from 49.7 percent last year when one reactor was under prolonged maintenance — if the No.3 reactor restarts in July and the other two reactors at its sole Hamaoka plant operate as planned.
If the No.3 unit is shut through March 2012 and the shortfall is made up only with gas-fired plants, however, Chubu Electric said it would have to buy an additional 1.08 million tonnes of liquefied natural gas from abroad.
Last month, the utility estimated it would buy 8.42 million tonnes of LNG in 2011/12, down from 10.43 million tonnes the year before. That estimate did not take into account the impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Chubu Electric estimated its group net profit would fall by 35 percent to 55 billion yen ($669 million) in 2011/12 after posting a 22 percent decline last year.
Nuclear power accounted for 14 percent of the firm’s total electricity generated in 2009/10, compared with a 30 percent average nationwide, while gas thermal power held a 47 percent share and coal thermal power 24 percent.
Chugoku Electric Power Co , based in western Japan and like Chubu Electric generating a relatively small proportion of its power from nuclear plants, on Thursday reiterated its plan to build a new nuclear plant in Kaminoseki.
The plant, the next new nuclear power plant scheduled to begin construction in Japan, is under close scrutiny for indications of the country’s post-Fukushima nuclear policy.
Chugoku Electric’s incoming president Tomohide Karita told a news conference in Hiroshima on Thursday that nuclear power was a vital source of electricity.
Karita was quoted by a spokesman as saying the company would proceed with its plan to build the plant in Kaminoseki while seeking understanding from local residents, many of whom have voiced concern about the project but whose support will be needed if it is to proceed. ($1 = 82.220 Japanese Yen) (Reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Edmund Klamann)