Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Heatwave bakes Japan amid worries of power shortage

Reuters: A relentless heatwave scorched Japan on Wednesday as temperatures hit record highs in many regions amid concerns of a possible power shortage in metropolitan Tokyo due to a shutdown of a key nuclear reactor.

In Tatebayashi city, 70 km (44 miles) north of the capital, the temperature rose to 40.2 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), just below the historical high of 40.8 C marked in 1933, government's Meteorological Agency said.

Three people have died from heatstroke and over 20 from water accidents since the hot weather began earlier this month, and trains just northeast of Tokyo had to halt operations on Wednesday as rails had warped from the heat. Summer temperatures are being watched closely by power markets this year, after a strong earthquake last month damaged and closed a nuclear reactor -- the world's largest -- that supplies most of the electricity to the Tokyo region.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), which runs the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata prefecture, has said it could struggle to meet peak power demand from the capital if temperatures rose beyond 35.3 Celsius.

The high in central Tokyo as of 0800 GMT was 35.7 C. The summer heat and humidity result in greater use of air conditioners, boosting electricity demand. But TEPCO downplayed worries of an imminent power shortage, saying that electricity demand tends to fall during this week's traditional "obon" holidays as major consumers such as manufacturers shut down their factories.

"Consumption during obon falls, so for this week we are not worried," a TEPCO spokesman said. The utility said electricity demand on Wednesday peaked at 51.89 million kilowatts, against an expected supply of 56.50 million kw. Temperatures throughout Japan are expected to fall to average or below next week, according to the Meteorological Agency.

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