TOKYO, Jan 15 (Reuters) - Japan’s trade ministry said it would approve on Wednesday a revival plan for the utility responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Tokyo Electric Power Co, its second attempt at restoring battered finances.
The plan hinges on Tokyo Electric (Tepco) restarting its Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant to cut fossil fuel costs, a contentious issue staunchly opposed by the local governor.
An earlier plan by Tepco outlining a revival after its Fukushima plant was hit by a massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011, triggering triple meltdowns at the site, had to be torn up because it could not restart Kashiwazaki.
Japan’s trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi is scheduled to meet Tepco president at 1700 JST on Wednesday to officially approve the plan.
Tepco is also pledging to cut costs by reducing fuel spending and forming partnerships with other utilities, as well as upgrading fossil fuel plants, the Nikkei newspaper reported on Wednesday. The company is majority owned by the government after an earlier bailout.
Tepco’s previous revival plan revolved around a Kashiwazaki restart in early 2013. The new plan envisages a restart of two reactors at the station in July and the utility hopes all seven reactors will go online by fiscal 2016.
The disaster at Fukushima, the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986 eventually brought about the halt of all nuclear power plants in Japan so they could be vetted under tougher new standards.
Opposition to atomic power remains strong in the country and is set to become a major issue in an election next month for governorship of metropolitan Tokyo, which owns a stake in Tepco.
Most candidates are opposed to restarting nuclear power plants and one, former prime minister Morihiro Hosokawa has received the strong backing from Junichiro Koizumi, one of Japan’s most popular leaders, who ruled between 2001 and 2006.
In the nearly three years since the disaster, the utility has been plagued by a string of setbacks at the Fukushima station north of Tokyo, including leaks of highly radioactive water last year, prompting the government to step in with more support.
The local governor in Niigata, where Kashiwazaki is located, has been a vocal opponent of Tepco’s management and has questioned whether the company has the ability to operate a nuclear station, following the failings in its preparation and response to the disaster. He has publicly called for the Tepco’s liquidation.
Tepco is aiming to have all seven reactors at the Niigata plant, the world’s biggest atomic station, operating by fiscal year 2016.