* Eight Japan nuclear utilities post combined $7.12 bln Q1
* Doubts over nuclear reactor restarts cloud future
* Tepco forecasts 160 bln yen net loss for year to March
* Tokyo prosecutors probe Tepco, govt officials -report
(Adds report that prosecutors begin criminal probe)
By Osamu Tsukimori
TOKYO, Aug 1 Fukushima plant operator Tokyo
Electric Power Co posted a quarterly net loss of $3.69
billion, boosting total losses by eight of Japan's nine listed
atomic plant operators to $7.12 billion as they struggle with
higher fossil fuel bills to fill a gap left by idled reactors.
With a growing anti-nuclear movement clouding the outlook
for future reactor restarts after two of the country's 50 units
went back on line last month, the regional electricity
monopolies' woes look likely to persist.
Kansai Electric Power resumed operations at two
reactors at its Ohi nuclear plant in western Japan to avert
potential blackouts this summer, the first to restart since last
year's Fukushima nuclear disaster, which by early this May had
left all of the country's 50 units offline for safety checks.
Without reactors running, the utilities have been forced to
aggressively turn to fossil fuels instead, especially costly gas
and oil, and could follow Tepco -- which has effectively been
nationalised -- in raising electricity rates. But analysts say
they are unlikely to need a government bailout.
"If (utilities) are unable to restart reactors or raise
electricity prices, other measures will need to be taken, but
it's too early to think the government may need to step in to
help," said Hidetoshi Shioda, an analyst at SMBC Nikko
Any decision to bring online more reactors will be in the
hands of a new atomic regulator to be launched in September, but
uncertainties remain since the restarts have energised
anti-nuclear feeling, with large protests taking place weekly
outside Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's official residence.
Tokyo Electric (Tepco), Japan's biggest utility, said on
Wednesday that its group net loss in the three months ended June
30 was 288.39 billion yen ($3.69 billion), down from a 571.8
billion yen loss a year earlier.
Tepco forecast a net loss of 160 billion yen for the year
ending next March, which is worse than the consensus estimate of
a 95.33 billion-yen loss in a survey of four analysts by Thomson
The owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which
spewed radiation after it was crippled by a huge earthquake and
tsunami on March 11, 2011, was nationalised on Tuesday.
The government officially took a 50.11 percent stake in
exchange for a 1 trillion-yen capital injection to help it cope
with the staggering compensation and clean-up costs of the
The injection brought total government support for the
company to more than 3 trillion yen, but the eventual cost of
the nuclear disaster, including clean-up and decommissioning
costs, has been estimated at more than $100 billion.
Adding to Tepco's woes, Tokyo prosecutors have opened a
probe after accepting criminal complaints against its executives
and government officials, the first investigation of its kind,
Jiji news agency reported on Wednesday. Prosecutors declined To
Tepco President Naomi Hirose said at the company's earnings
news conference he could not immediately comment on the Jiji
A panel of experts appointed by parliament concluded last
month that the Fukushima nuclear disaster could have been
prevented and that the failure to take enough precautions was
the result of "collusion" among the utility, regulators and
Tepco, which supplies power to almost 45 million people in
and around Tokyo, aims to return to profitability in the 2013/14
business year, but to do so, it must gradually restart reactors
at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in northern Japan
starting from April 2013.
It remains unclear, however, if the reactors can resume
operations as scheduled, since the firm needs to have local
governments' backing before operations can resume.
In the year ended in March, Japanese utilities used a record
52.89 million tonnes equivalent of liquefied natural gas (LNG),
topping the previous record by more than 10 million tonnes,
while their oil consumption more than doubled from the same
period a year earlier.
The utilities are shouldering a high cost for keeping their
nuclear plants out of operation. Kansai Electric said on Monday
it expects to cut its fossil fuel consumption by 2.3 million
tonnes of LNG equivalent in the 2012/13 fiscal year after
restarting two nuclear reactors.
Among the nine listed Japanese utilities that operate
nuclear plants, only Hokuriku Electric Power posted a
profit in the first quarter, of 8.9 billion yen.
($1 = 78.1000 Japanese yen)
(Additional reporting by James Topham, Linda Sieg and Aaron
Sheldrick; Editing by Ryan Woo and Edmund Klamann)