* Six out of nine Japan utilities report losses
* Utilities warn of rate hikes as reactors remain idle
* Kyushu, Hokkaido Elec seek support from state-run bank
(Adds decommissioning plans)
By Mari Saito
TOKYO, April 30 Japan's nuclear-reliant
utilities reported losses for the third straight year and warned
of further electricity rate hikes to pay for surging fuel
imports as they face an uncertain outlook for restarting idled
Six of Japan's nine big regional power companies, all of
which own reactors, reported a combined net loss of $3.3 billion
as they face the rising fuel costs and also spend billions of
dollars to upgrade nuclear facilities to meet new regulatory
All 48 of the nation's reactors were steadily brought
offline after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which
triggered three reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi
plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Utilities are required to take reactors down about once
every 13 months for maintenance, and in the wake of the
Fukushima crisis a number of factors, including local
communities' opposition, have prevented them from coming back
"We can no longer deny the possibility that we will not be
able to restart a nuclear plant for some time," Kansai Electric
Power President Makoto Yagi told an earnings briefing
on Wednesday, adding that another electricity rate hike may
become inevitable. It raised rates by 9.75 percent last May.
Kansai Electric, Japan's second-largest utility by revenue
which supplies nearly one-fifth of the nation's electricity,
reported a 97.4 billion yen ($950 million) net loss for the
fiscal year that ended on March 31, its third consecutive year
Kyushu Electric Power and Hokkaido Electric Power
said on Wednesday they would request financial support
from the government-affiliated Development Bank of Japan, asking
it to buy 150 billion yen in preferred shares in the two
Kyushu Electric serves Japan's southern main island which is
home to several auto and chip plants, while Hokkaido Electric
serves the northernmost island.
The three consecutive years of net losses for utilities will
make it difficult for them to secure further private-sector
loans under standard Japanese banking practices, pushing firms
like Kyushu and Hokkaido to seek public support.
Kansai Electric, whose annual revenue exceeds its Kyushu and
Hokkaido peers combined, repeated on Wednesday that it is not
currently considering seeking financial support.
Japan's utilities relied on nuclear plants to provide around
30 percent of their electricity output before the Fukushima
disaster. Out of the nine regional monopolies with nuclear
reactors, Kansai had the greatest dependency - at nearly half.
Tokyo Electric Power, Japan's biggest utility and
operator of the destroyed Fukushima plant, returned to profit
for the first time since 2009/10 with a 438.6 billion yen net
profit, reflecting rate hikes and aggressive cost cutting.
An independent regulator set up after the Fukushima disaster
has been vetting restart applications for 10 plants but has so
far only fast-tracked Kyushu Electric's Sendai nuclear station
in southwestern Japan.
Even in the most optimistic scenario, analysts and industry
watchers say Japan may only be able to restart one-third of its
reactors, while 17 are unlikely ever to come back online due to
their age, location or proximity to suspected active fault
Utilities are starting to face the prospect of permanent
shutdowns, according to the Asahi newspaper. Chubu Electric
Power Co, Shikoku Electric Power Co and Kyushu
said on Wednesday they are considering decommissioning old
reactors, the Asahi reported.
Kansai President Yagi also said the company is considering
scrapping old units.
Kansai has already spent a little more than $1 billion to
equip its three nuclear plants with emergency water pumps, vents
and anti-earthquake features to meet the regulatory standards.
Kyushu expects to spend more than $3 billion on upgrading its
On Wednesday, Kyushu submitted a 7,200 page revised
application to the regulator that outlines its planned upgrades
and safety improvements to its Sendai plant as it attempts to
receive clearance to reopen the facility. But the process
"We still do not know the final schedule for any restart,"
the company's spokesman told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Kentaro Hamada in TOKYO, Yoshiyuki
Osada in OSAKA; Editing by Edmund Klamann, Pravin Char and