April 30, 2015 / 9:32 AM / 4 years ago

Lower oil prices help Japan nuclear utilities return to profit

TOKYO (Reuters) - All but two of Japan’s nine listed nuclear power utilities have posted net profits for the year, as cost cuts and a drop in fossil fuel prices helped them recover from the Fukushima disaster four years ago.

An employee of Kyushu Electric Power Co walks in front of reactor buildings at the company's Sendai nuclear power plant in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Mari Saito

Only the two most nuclear fuel-dependant utilities, Kansai Electric Power and Kyushu Electric Power, reported losses for the financial year which ended March 2015. Of the seven operators that turned in a profit, four had reported a loss in the previous year.

A halving in crude oil prices since June 2014 helped utilities cut fuel import costs at the same time as an asset sales program boosted revenue.

The future profitability of nuclear-reliant Kyushu Electric and Kansai Electric, however, hangs in the balance after two court decisions on their plans to restart reactors in recent weeks went opposing ways.

Kyushu Electric, reliant on nuclear for 42 percent of its power supplies, cleared a legal hurdle last week when a court rejected a bid to block the restart of its Sendai reactors in southwestern Japan.

For Kansai Electric, the judges upheld a request to block the restart of two of its Takahama reactors, west of Tokyo. Kansai Electric, the country’s second biggest utility and reliant on nuclear for more than 43 percent of electricity generation before the Fukushima disaster, said it would appeal the decision.

Kansai Electric said on Thursday it would try to avoid a fifth year of losses in the financial year that started on April 1 and sought permission from the government for a second increase on power bills for residential customers.

“It will be a bit easier for nuclear reactors to restart in the smaller utility service areas, where there is more local support and greater reliance on nuclear, such as Hokkaido and Kyushu,” said Michael Jones, senior analyst at consultancy Wood Mackenzie, referring to Kyushu Electric and Hokkaido Electric Power.

Along with Kansai Electric, Tokyo Electric Power, which has struggled with the cleanup of the wrecked Fukushima plant, and Chubu Electric Power, which was forced to shut its only nuclear plant in the wake of the disaster, have difficulties getting nuclear units up and running due to public opposition.

“Tokyo, Chubu and Kansai are going to face a bit more scrutiny than some of the smaller utilities,” Jones said.

“It is not totally unreasonable to imagine that the three largest utilities end up with zero nuclear,” he said.

Reporting by Aaron Sheldrick, Kentaro Hamada and Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Miral Fahmy

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