Tokyo’s June heatwave is worst since 1875 as power supply cracks under strain

TOKYO, June 28 (Reuters) – Japan baked in scorching temperatures for the fourth straight day on Tuesday, as the capital’s heat broke nearly 150-year-old records for June and authorities warned that the he power supply remained tight enough to raise the specter of blackouts.

The heatwave comes less than two weeks before a national election in which prices, including the cost of electricity, are among the top issues picked up by voters in opinion polls that show the approval rating drop in government – ​​with politicians, including the governor of Tokyo, urging reductions in electricity prices.

Temperatures in the capital hit 35.1C at 1pm local time on Tuesday (0400 GMT), after three straight days of temperatures above 35C – the worst streak of hot weather in June since records began in 1875. And the heatwave is not sure to break: the Japan Meteorological Agency has predicted highs of 36°C for Tokyo on Thursday and 35°C on Friday.

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With heatstroke alerts issued in parts of the country on Tuesday, hospitalization cases rose, with emergency services saying 76 people were taken to hospital in Tokyo.

Many in the capital and elsewhere continue to flout government advice to reduce the risk of heat stroke by not wearing face masks outside – a legacy of more than two years of widespread mask-wearing in public places during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We tell people that when they are outside, they can keep enough distance and don’t talk, they should take off their masks,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told a conference. hurry.

For a second day, authorities have asked consumers in the Tokyo area to conserve electricity to avoid an impending blackout – but in moderation.

“Apparently there are some elderly people who have turned off their air conditioners because we’re asking people to save energy, but please – it’s so hot – feel free to cool off,” he said. Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda said at a press conference.

Tokyo’s reserve rate in the evening (4:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.) on Tuesday was expected to drop below 5% on Monday evening, close to the minimum of 3% which ensures a stable supply, in Tokyo and eight surrounding prefectures. A reserve capacity of less than 3% risks causing power shortages and blackouts.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said the forecast had improved slightly but still called on consumers to be energy efficient. He warned that supplies would still be limited on Wednesday.

Monday’s warning prompted government offices, including METI, to turn off some afternoon and evening lights, as METI halted use of 25% of elevators in its building.

Electronics stores have taken similar action, turning off TVs and other goods on retail floors that would normally be kept on display to entice shoppers, and some Tokyo residents said on social media that they were turning off all unused devices. used.

But politicians have started calling for new measures.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike attended a Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) shareholders’ meeting (9501.T) on Tuesday, saying later that she had called for price cuts, Fuji News Network reported. TEPCO supplies electricity to the greater Tokyo area.

Although it expects strong results in the July 10 elections for the upper house of parliament, Kishida’s ruling party faces headwinds from rising prices, compounded by a decline in the value of the yen. which makes imports more expensive.

Approval for the Kishida cabinet stood at 50% in a voter poll conducted by public broadcaster NHK from June 24-26, up from 55% last week.

Natsuo Yamaguchi, leader of Kishida’s coalition government’s junior partner, warned in a campaign speech on Monday that citizens risked heat stroke by trying to save energy.

“What I would really like is for the government to tell power companies to cut costs,” he said, as quoted by Kyodo news agency.

Economically, the heat could be a double-edged sword, said Yoshiki Shinke, senior economist at the Dai-ichi Life Research Institute.

“Scorching heat is said to boost private consumption during the summer through increased sales of beverages and household appliances…but excessive heat can dampen consumption,” he added, noting people stay indoors and vegetable prices go up.

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Additional reporting by Sakura Murakami, Kantaro Komiya and Yuka Obayashi; Written by Elaine Lies; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell

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