TOKYO Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) plans to seek the cooperation of domestic nuclear operators to improve the safety of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in an attempt to restart it and help meet the costs of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The move comes after Japan's government in December nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the Fukushima disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($192 billion).
Tepco's portion of the burden has more than doubled to 15.9 trillion yen, and it has become imperative for Tepco to boost its earnings to allocate 500 billion yen ($4.5 billion) in annual profits in coming decades to pay for decommissioning and compensation.
In the world's worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors at Tepco's Fukushima plant melted down after a magnitude 9 earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, killing more than 15,000 people.
Many of Japan's reactors are still going through a relicensing process by a new regulator set up after the Fukushima disaster.
Shutting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in western Japan for additional years would mean that the company would have to continue relying heavily on costlier power generation through fossil fuels such as natural gas.
But restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is not seen as easy. The governor of Japan's Niigata prefecture reiterated his opposition to the restart of the plant, adding it may take a few years to review the pre-conditions for restart.
Under a revised business plan outlined on Wednesday, Tepco also aims to set up a consortium with domestic peers on nuclear business to tackle common issues such as improving nuclear safety, in line with recommendations by the trade ministry's committee on Tepco reform. Tepco and a government body that owns the majority of its shares announced the gist of the plans.
Tepco also aims to combine its domestic fossil fuel plants with those of Chubu Electric Power Co under their joint fuel venture JERA Co.
Tepco and Chubu Electric plan to make a final decision on whether to merge their fossil fuel plants by around May, but Chubu Electric President Satoru Katsuno said on Friday it would look at the main points of Tepco's new business plan to determine whether to go ahead with the final step for JERA.
(Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Kim Coghill and Muralikumar Anantharaman)