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Japan begins power restrictions
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) July 1, 2011

Japan on Friday began restricting electricity consumption in the Tokyo and Tohoku regions, more than three months after a tsunami sent nuclear reactors into meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The power-saving drive, which for many began shortly after the huge March 11 quake and tsunami but which became official Friday, will last through the peak summer months to September to cut blackout risks after the loss of capacity.

Large companies that violate the decree to cut useage by 15 percent will face fines of up to one million yen ($12,400). Smaller users and households have also been asked to voluntarily cut power use by 15 percent.

To cope, Japan has taken its annual summer "Cool Biz" campaign -- aimed at limiting air conditioner use and encouraging workers to ditch jackets and ties -- to a new level.

Factories have changed shifts to make use of cooler evenings, early mornings and lower-demand weekends, prompting nursery schools to also open weekends to cater for the needs of working parents.

Companies such as Sony have brought their business days forward by an hour in order to finish earlier.

Railway operators have increased train services in the early morning to coincide with moves by Japanese firms to start the work day earlier.

The power-saving restrictions will be in effect through to September 22 in Tokyo Electric's service area and through September 9 in Tohoku Electric's territory.

Hospitals providing emergency treatment and shelters for evacuees from the March 11 disaster are exempted. The reduction target will be relaxed to up to 10 percent for medical, nursing-care and transportation service providers.

On Wednesday temperatures soared to 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) in Tokyo and air conditioner use pushed consumption to 93 percent of capacity, raising fears that the capital may yet face blackouts as the summer heats up.

Even utilities not directly affected by the earthquake and tsunami have not restarted nuclear reactors that were undergoing maintenance at the time, due to objections from local governments amid a wave of anti-nuclear sentiment.

Only 19 of Japan's 54 reactors are now operating, with more due to shut down for regular checks. Japan usually generates about 30 percent of its power from nuclear plants.

Ratings agency Moody's on Friday said it had downgraded the ratings of nine Japanese utilities, citing increased regulatory uncertainty following the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

There are worries that restrictions on power consumption may slow the country's recovery from recession, after the earthquake and tsunami hammered Japanese production and the economy contracted by an annualised 3.5 percent in January-March.

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