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TEPCO Told to Keep Quake-Hit Nuclear Plant Closed


Japan's trade minister told Tokyo Electric Power Tuesday it must delay restarting a nuclear power plant until its safety can be confirmed, after damage from a strong earthquake in northwest Japan the previous day.

TEPCO's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, the world's biggest, reported a fire and a small radiation leak at the facility after quake, which killed nine people and injured 900. It said 1.2 cubic metres (42.38 cu ft) of water contaminated with radioactive material leaked into the sea but should not affect the environment.

A TEPCO spokesman said Trade Minister Akira Amari told TEPCO President Tsunehisa Katsumata early on Tuesday that the company should not restart the plant until its safety could be confirmed.

The indefinite closure of the 8,212 megawatt-power plant could mean that TEPCO, Asia's largest utility, facing a power crunch as it heads into the peak summer demand period. The plant has seven nuclear reactors.

A hot summer is forecast for Japan this year, and the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan said on June 15 that summer peak demand is likely to be 2.9% higher than last year.

The leak was from the shut-down No.6 unit, which has a capacity of 1.356 million kilowatts. The fire had been sparked in a transformer linked to another unit, No.3. TEPCO could not say when the three units that had tripped offline after the quake would be restarted, but an official said it had no immediate plans to increase operations at oil- or gas-fired power plants to make up for the lost capacity.

The spokesman said there would be no shortage of electricity this week. "We will have to study the situation for next week," he said.

The magnitude 6.8 quake struck at 10:13 a.m. local time on a holiday Monday in Japan, killing at least four people in the same area as a tremor three years ago that killed 65 people.

The No.3, No.4 and No.7 power generation units at the plant, located near the center of the quake some 250 km (155 miles) northwest of Tokyo, shut down automatically. The No.3 unit alone has a capacity of 1.1 million kilowatts.

Four more units at Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, which the company says is the world's biggest such facility, were not operating as they had been shut for maintenance, TEPCO said.