Business

Government likely to retain grip on beleaguered Tepco

Kyodo

The government might stay involved in the management of Tokyo Electric longer than planned, given the ballooning costs of scrapping the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, sources close to the matter said.

The delay in reactivating the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant in Niigata Prefecture, the main pillar of the utility’s reconstruction plan, is another factor prompting the government rethink, the sources said Saturday. It had planned to end state control next April.

The government is leading the business operations of struggling Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings, which is facing huge compensation payments and other problems from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, because it has acquired 50.1 percent of the firm’s voting rights via the state-backed Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp.

Some bureaucrats at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry have been dispatched to Tepco.

Tepco said in a business plan in 2014 that it would turn itself from a “temporarily publicly managed” company to a self-managed one starting next April.

The industry ministry will hold the first panel meeting Wednesday to discuss additional government support for the utility.

Tepco faces swelling costs for decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 plant and compensating those affected beyond the previously estimated ¥11 trillion ($108 billion). Two reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are under prolonged safety examinations by nuclear regulators.

The prospect of restarting the giant plant is also being complicated by impending changes in the leadership of the Niigata Prefectural Government, which hosts it.

To restart the plant, approval from the Niigata governor is needed.

Hirohiko Izumida, the current governor, was cautious about restarting the reactors because of Tepco’s failure to fully examine the cause of the Fukushima disaster. He withdrew his bid for re-election at the end of August.

Of the four candidates running for the Oct. 16 election, former Nagaoka Mayor Tamio Mori, 67, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito ruling coalition, and Ryuichi Yoneyama, a 49-year-old doctor, are leading the race. Yoneyama has said he will follow Izumida’s stance and is opposed to any discussion of restarts unless the Fukushima disaster is thoroughly explained.

Tepco’s new business plan, including the revised schedule for ending state control, is expected to be compiled next January.