Milestones:Kurobe River No. 4 Hydropower Plant, 1956-63

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Kurobe River No. 4 Hydropower Plant, 1956-63

Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., completed the innovative Kurobe River No. 4 Hydropower Plant, including the subterranean power station and Kurobe Dam, in 1963. The 275kV long-distance transmission system delivered the generated electric power to the Kansai region and solved serious power shortages, contributing to industrial development and enhancing living standards for the population.

In May 1951, almost six years after the end of the World War II, the Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc. was
established by the Electricity Utility Industry Law, as one of the nine monopolistic electric power
companies of Japan, with a capital of 1,690 million yen (cf. 1,460 million yen of the Tokyo Electric) and
a total power capacity of 2,284 MW, with 1,130 MW by 130 hydropower plants and 1,154 MW by 16
thermal power plants (cf. 1,786MW=1,441MW+345MW of the Tokyo Electric), each the greatest of all
power companies. As for 130 hydropower plants, the numbers of pondage-type and reservoir-type
plants were 32 and 1, respectively, and hence its hydroelectric generating capacity was heavily
vulnerable to drought. On the other hand, as for 16 thermal power plants, all of them were built mainly to
supplement the shortage of hydroelectric capability in the drought season of winter, and moreover they
could not output any more than 70% of the installed capacity due to cumulative mechanical degradation
during the postwar confusion as well as lack of coal caused by the Korean War in 1950-1953.
In August 1951, just after the establishment, the Kansai Electric suffered from exceptional drought, and
the power shortage became suddenly worse in the service area of the Kansai Region to such a serious
extent that the worst case in Japan occurred there in September 1951 through March 1952, in which two
and three days’ power cut per week had to be imposed on industrial/commercial and residential
customers, respectively[2]. Furthermore, to satisfy the power demand that was growing rapidly with the
vigorous progress of postwar reconstruction, the Kansai Electric had to make every effort to construct
new hydropower plants as well as to reinforce the generating capability of thermal power plants.
To overcome such terrible power shortage, the Kansai Electric started large-scale geographical surveys
for constructing the Kurobe River No.4 Hydropower Plant, henceforth referred to as the Kuroyon, a well known Japanese alias. The upper basin of the Kurobe River (see Fig. 1) originating in the Northern Japan
Alps of 3,000m order altitude has an annual precipitation of 3,800mm, an average river slope of 1/40,
and an average snowfall of 5m, and therefore it had long been regarded as an ideal site for hydropower
generation. Eventually, Mr. Shiro Ohtagaki, the President of the Kansai Electric, announced in autumn
1955 a big project of constructing the 250 MW class Kuroyon that would harness a huge reservoir
created by a dome-shaped arch dam, called the Kurobe Dam, at an elevation of 1,448m in the midst of
rugged Kurobe Gorge in the Chubu-Sangaku National Park.

Subsequently, the postwar Japan’s largest-class project of constructing the Kuroyon and the Kurobe Dam
began in July 1956. The long-awaited concrete placing began in September 1959, and partial reservoir
filling started in October 1960. Immediately after that, the Kuroyon began partial power generation of
154MW output in January 1961, using two Pelton turbines, each with the world’s largest output among
those of the same type, and then increased output to 234MW in August 1962, using additionally a third
Pelton turbine. The combined project of the Kuroyon and the Kurobe Dam was completed in June 1963,
after a total investment of 51.3 billion yen (142.5 million 1963 US dollars) and a labor output of 10 million man-days. The Kuroyon’s generating capacity was finally expanded to 335MW in June 1973 with the addition of a fourth Pelton turbine at a cost of 1.4 billion yen (5 million US dollars).

The construction of the Kuroyon and the Kurobe Dam paved the way for a new phase of downstream
development by means of huge controlled water storage. Specifically,
(i) the total hydroelectric capacity in the Kurobe River Basin has since grown from 273MW to 969MW,
by building a total of six new hydropower plants for more effective use of river flow as well as by
reinforcing the generating capability of existing plants through efficient flow control, and
(ii) the agricultural utilization of water resources has since been performed by the irrigation drainage and
alluvial soil improvement in the Kurobe River Basin.
In parallel with the construction of the Kuroyon and the Kurobe Dam, the Japan’s first 275kV long
distance power transmission system covering 350km from the Kurobe River Basin to the Kansai Region
was repeatedly reformed, and finally completed in October 1973 by installing the Japan’s first 275kV
series capacitor banks at the Johana Switching Station in Toyama Prefecture, as shown in Fig. 3.
Consequently, the pioneering works dedicated to developing and operating huge facilities of the Kuroyon,
the Kurobe Dam, and related facilities in July 1956 through October1973, as summarized in Table 1,
contributed greatly not only toward the stable power supply against serious power shortages and growing
peak power demands, but also toward the postwar development of industries and the enhancement of the
quality of life.

 Location(s) of Milestone plaque(s):
(i) At the entrance of the Kurobe River No.4 Hydropower Plant:
Address: Unazuki-machi, Kurobe-shi, Toyama, 938-0200 Japan
GPS: N 36.64486 E 137.68964
(ii) In front of the Kurobe Dam:
Address: Ashikuraji, Tateyama-machi, Nakaniikawa-gun, Toyama, 930-1406 Japan
GPS: N 36.56644 E 137.66213