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The World

March 17, 2011

Japan struggles with power crunch after quake

TOKYO — Densely populated Tokyo endured more rolling blackouts Thursday and faces at least six months of power shortages as earthquake damage to nuclear plants idles factories with possible global repercussions.

The 9.0-magnitude quake and tsunami that obliterated towns in Japan's northeast Friday forced the utility that serves Tokyo, a center for finance and global manufacturers such as Toyota and Sony, to slash power supplies by a quarter.

Power to parts of the sprawling region, which produces 40 percent of Japan's economic output, is cut for three hours a day, shutting down commuter trains and traffic lights.

Replacing lost power supplies will be a key challenge in getting Japan back on its feet economically after a disaster that may costs as much as $200 billion. Power shortages will last at least six months while conventional generators are repaired or replaced, affecting companies that are key links in global manufacturing and trade. With four nuclear reactors out of action, likely permanently, Japan's demand for oil and gas to fuel power generation is expected to surge, pushing up global prices.

"There is an enormous amount of disruption and expense coming, as well as what has already happened," said Jason Feer, a senior vice president for Argus Media Ltd., which provides energy market analysis.

The economic impact of the quake has been overshadowed by the crisis triggered by tsunami damage at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex in Japan's northeast. But its consequences could be far-reaching as power shortages hamper Japanese companies that are a global presence in fields from car manufacturing to finance.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the loss of Fukushima and other quake damage cut its power supply capacity to 33.5 million kilowatts per day, 25 percent below demand. Emergency crews have poured seawater into three reactors in a last-ditch tactic to avert a meltdown, leaving them useless as a power source.

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