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Partner with Tepco? No thanks, say Japanese power peers via Nikkei Asian Review

TOKYO — Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, is sinking deeper into a quagmire.

With the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster drawing near, Tepco is trying desperately to get back on its feet by resuming its nuclear power operations, possibly with the help of one or more partners. But potential candidates are distancing themselves from the ailing industry leader for fear of being forced to shoulder a debilitating financial burden.

 Making things even worse for Tepco is the deepening financial crisis at Toshiba, whose huge losses have cast dark clouds over the future of Japan’s nuclear power generation

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On Feb. 1, Niigata Gov. Ryuichi Yoneyama made his first tour of the plant since taking office last October. When he arrived, he was greeted by a nervous-looking Naomi Hirose, Tepco’s president.

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Nearly two weeks later, Tepco’s efforts to bring the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant back online suffered a fresh setback, when it emerged that the facility’s earthquake-readiness measures had been deemed inadequate.

On Feb. 28, the Nuclear Regulation Authority, Japan’s nuclear watchdog, summoned Tepco President Hirose and called on the company to resubmit an application for safety checks at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant’s No. 6 and No. 7 units.

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On Oct. 25 last year, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which oversees the electric power industry, put forward the idea of spinning off Tepco’s nuclear business into a separate company.

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The response from the industry was strong and immediate.

“We do not have an alliance or a realignment in mind at all,” said a clearly riled Hiroya Harada, president of Tohoku Electric Power, when asked about the idea.

Tohoku Electric Power is based in the northeastern city of Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, and its service area includes the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.

Harada said building trust with the communities that host nuclear plants is crucial. “It is impossible for a different player to suddenly step forward” and operate the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant with Tepco.

Nagoya-based Chubu Electric Power partners with Tepco on thermal power, but it has no interest in extending the alliance to nuclear energy.

“I cannot understand what benefits it would bring us,” said Chubu Electric Power President Satoru Katsuno.

Last year, Osaka-based Kansai Electric Power Co. formed a broad nuclear partnership in western Japan with three other electric utilities: Kyushu Electric Power, Chugoku Electric Power and Shikoku Electric Power.

It is clear that Tepco’s domestic peers are alarmed by the possibility of being forced to share the huge financial costs of dealing with the Fukushima disaster.

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The financial chaos at Toshiba comes at a bad time for Tepco, as it could spell trouble for the entire domestic nuclear industry.

Toshiba is one of Japan’s three nuclear plant manufacturers, along with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Hitachi. Its massive loss of over 700 billion yen stemming from its U.S. nuclear subsidiary, Westinghouse Electric, has Toshiba moving to scale back its nuclear operations, especially abroad. Japanese electric power companies fear that such moves could affect their plans to restart and decommission nuclear reactors.

Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of major business lobby the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said consolidation is needed in the nuclear power industry. “We must think about whether (the nuclear power business) can be done by one company alone,” he said.

[…]

The financial chaos at Toshiba comes at a bad time for Tepco, as it could spell trouble for the entire domestic nuclear industry.

Toshiba is one of Japan’s three nuclear plant manufacturers, along with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Hitachi. Its massive loss of over 700 billion yen stemming from its U.S. nuclear subsidiary, Westinghouse Electric, has Toshiba moving to scale back its nuclear operations, especially abroad. Japanese electric power companies fear that such moves could affect their plans to restart and decommission nuclear reactors.

Yoshimitsu Kobayashi, chairman of major business lobby the Japan Association of Corporate Executives, said consolidation is needed in the nuclear power industry. “We must think about whether (the nuclear power business) can be done by one company alone,” he said.

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