Photo/IllutrationThe Tomato-Atsuma thermal power plant in Atsuma, Hokkaido (Kazuyoshi Sako)

The quake-damaged largest thermal power plant in Hokkaido will not return to full operations until at least November, the economy ministry said, a delay that could hinder rebuilding efforts from the disaster.

The early morning earthquake on Sept. 6 damaged boilers and turbines in all three generating units of Hokkaido Electric Power Co.’s Tomato-Atsuma plant, located in the town of Atsuma, which recorded a maximum intensity of 7 on the Japanese seismic scale.

At his Sept. 11 news conference, Hiroshige Seko, the economy, trade and industry minister, provided Hokkaido Electric Power’s schedule for a resumption of operations at the plant.

The No. 1 generator with an output of 350,000 kilowatts will likely resume full operations by late September at the earliest, while the No. 2 generator with an output of 600,000 kilowatts will be fully restored in mid-October at the earliest, he said.

But the No. 4 generator with a capacity of 700,000 kilowatts is not expected to return to full operations until November, Seko said.

Furthermore, Hokkaido Electric Power executives warned that further delays were possible if more damage is uncovered through inspections.

The unstable supply of electricity could affect reconstruction efforts from the quake that killed dozens and caused massive landslides, especially with the main northern island now facing an autumn with less than a full electricity supply.

But the government may not need to implement rolling blackouts because a hydroelectric plant in Kyogoku is expected to be up and running from Sept. 14 at the earliest.

Even with the additional supply, Seko said his ministry would keep calling for energy conservation of 20 percent from companies and residents in Hokkaido.

He said this week would mark an important turning point, and urged continued conservation efforts until Sept. 14.

The conservation rate for Sept. 11 in the hour from 10 a.m. was 24.9 percent, exceeding the 20-percent goal.

Immediately after the magnitude-6.7 quake, all 2.95 million households in Hokkaido were without power.

However, the blackout was gradually overcome through the purchase of electricity from companies that generate their own power as well as from the sharing of electricity from utilities in the main Honshu island.

Still, a stable supply of electricity in Hokkaido requires a resumption of operations at the Tomato-Atsuma plant because many of the other thermal plants are old.