Tokyo June heat wave worst since 1875 when power supply squeaks under load

TOKYO, June 28 (Reuters) – Japan baked under scorching temperatures for a fourth day in a row on Tuesday, when the capital’s heat broke nearly 150-year-old records for June and authorities warned that power supplies remained tight enough to increase the specter of cuts.

The heat wave comes less than two weeks before a national election where prices, including the cost of electricity, are among key issues picked out by voters in opinion polls showing the government’s approval rating falling – with politicians including Tokyo’s governor urging to cut power prices.

The temperatures in the capital reached 35.1 C by 13:00 local time Tuesday (0400 GMT), after three consecutive days with temperatures above 35 C – the worst series of hot weather in June since records began in 1875. And the heat wave is not about to break: Japan Meteorological Agency predicted peaks of 36 C for Tokyo on Thursday and 35 C on Friday.

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With heat stroke warnings issued in some areas of the country on Tuesday, cases of hospitalization increased, and emergency services said 76 people were taken to hospitals in Tokyo.

Many in the capital and elsewhere continue to mock the government’s advice to reduce the risk of heat stroke by not wearing face masks outdoors – a legacy from more than two years of widespread mask use in public environments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We tell people that when they are outside, can take sufficient distance and do not speak, they should take off their masks,” Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto told a news conference.

For another day, the authorities asked consumers in the Tokyo area to save electricity to avoid a threatening power outage – but in moderation.

“Apparently there are some older people who have turned off the air conditioner because we ask people to save energy, but please – it’s so hot – do not hesitate to cool down,” Trade and Industry Minister Koichi Hagiuda said at a news conference.

The reserve ratio for Tokyo during the evening (1630-1700) on Tuesday was expected to fall below 5% from Monday night, close to a minimum of 3% which ensures stable supply, in Tokyo and eight surrounding prefectures. Reserve capacity below 3% risks power shortages and power outages.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Trade and Industry (METI) said that the forecasts had improved slightly, but still encouraged consumers to be economical with electricity consumption. It warned that supplies would remain tight on Wednesday.

Monday’s warning caused government offices, including METI, to turn off some lights in the afternoon and evening, and METI stopped using 25% of the lifts in the building.

Electronic stores took similar steps, shutting down televisions and other items on the sales floors that would normally be held to entice buyers, and some Tokyo residents said on social media that they turned off all appliances that were not in use.

But politicians began to call for further steps.

Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike attended a meeting with Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) (9501.T) shareholders on Tuesday, and later said she had asked for a price cut, Fuji News Network reported. TEPCO supplies power to the Tokyo region.

Although it is expected to do well in the July 10 election to the upper house of parliament, Kishida’s ruling party is facing headwinds from rising prices, exacerbated by a fall in the value of the yen that makes imports more expensive.

The Kishida cabinet’s approval came to 50% in a voter survey conducted by the public broadcaster NHK 24-26. June, down from 55% last week.

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

“What I really want is for the government to ask the power companies to reduce costs,” he told the Kyodo news agency.

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

“Hot heat is said to increase private consumption in the summer through higher sales of beverages and white goods … but excessive heat can curb consumption,” he added, noting that people are staying indoors and vegetable prices are rising.

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

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