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Friday, Sep. 7, 2012

Tepco says it has no money to pursue renewable energy alternatives

AP

The head of the utility that owns the crisis-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant said Thursday he believes atomic power should still be part of the country's energy mix even though the government and public seem to feel differently.

News photo
Naomi Hirose

Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., also said the utility can't afford to invest in alternative energy sources since the earthquake-tsunami crisis last year that led to three reactor meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1 — a disaster still ongoing.

Tepco faces huge compensation and cleanup costs from the nuclear crisis, which led to widespread evacuations and massive radioactive fallout that greatly damaged the agriculture and fisheries industries in particular. The utility was nationalized in July after receiving a ¥1 trillion public bailout.

Tepco had attempted diversification of its energy mix before the March 11, 2011, earthquake-tsunami double-punch. It built three mega-solar power plants and more than a dozen windmills nationwide with its affiliate, Eurus Energy Holdings Corp.

But Tepco's difficult financial picture because of the nuclear crisis means it doesn't have the money to invest in renewable energy, Hirose told AP at company headquarters in Tokyo.

Hirose, 59, assumed the top post at the struggling utility in June with the task of turning around its business. A resumption of Tepco's idled reactors would help, but gaining local support for that would be difficult, he acknowledged.

"It is true that in order to be in healthy financial condition, nuclear power is helpful," he said, referring to Tepco's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata Prefecture, whose seven reactors remain idled for inspections and disaster stress tests. "But we do not have any specific schedule for a restart."

He said, however, Tepco would follow any energy mix the government decides as part of its electricity policy.

The Fukushima crisis triggered widespread opposition to nuclear energy, making it difficult for the government and utilities to restart the country's remaining 50 viable reactors, which were shut down for routine inspections or for safety reasons. The last one among them went offline in May.

Two were restarted in July at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi nuclear plant in Fukui Prefecture to avoid a power crunch during high-demand summer season, but that triggered large protests outside the prime minister's office that continue to be staged.

Hirose vowed to fully assess the damage and cause of the Fukushima triple-meltdown disaster.

The six-reactor Fukushima plant is considered in a stable state at present but it will take decades to decommission its reactors and require research and development of technology to deal with the reactors that suffered meltdowns.

The government is gearing for a new energy policy that either ends Japan's dependence on nuclear power or reduces the role atomic power plays in the energy mix. Surveys show the public overwhelmingly supports a complete phaseout of nuclear energy.



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The Japan Times

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