TOKYO (Reuters) - Western Japan's Kansai Electric Power Co said it will ask customers to cut power use during the peak demand period this summer as public concerns over safety hinder restarts of nuclear reactors shut for maintenance, pushing the country's power crunch beyond the quake-hit northeast.
Japanese communities have increasingly opposed reactor restarts as the crisis drags on at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi plant, which continues to leak radiation three months after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the region.
Kansai Electric, Japan's second-largest utility, said it would announce a call for power savings later in the day. Newspapers said it would seek a cut in power consumption during peak summer hours of 15 percent from last year's levels.
The company, which is more heavily reliant on nuclear power than most of Japan's regional utilities, warned last month that it would face difficulty meeting summer power demand if four reactors shut for maintenance were not restarted.
The Trade Ministry has warned that all 54 of Japan's nuclear reactors may be offline by next April, adding more than $30 billion a year to the country's energy costs, if community concerns continue to prevent reactors from restarting after regular maintenance.
The Fukushima crisis led to rolling blackouts in the Tokyo area in the weeks after the quake, severely disrupting economic activity and people's livelihoods, and the Tokyo utility has been scrambling to avoid a repeat of those blackouts this summer, when users crank up their air conditioners.
The utility has brought mothballed thermal power plants back online and boosted its procurement of fossil fuels.
Central Japan's Chubu Electric Power Co has also had to scramble to secure more expensive fuel supplies after it was pushed by the government to shut its Hamaoka nuclear plant, which sits on a seismically active zone and was feared vulnerable to a major earthquake and tsunami similar to the disaster that hit Fukushima.
Trade Minister Banri Kaieda said on Friday that western areas would also face power supply uncertainties if nuclear reactors that had been halted for maintenance could not restart, Kyodo news service reported.
Kansai Electric's shares were down 1.9 percent at 1,173 yen in morning trade on Friday, compared with a 1.3 percent rise in Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei average.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori and Edmund Klamann and Michael Watson)