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Is TEPCO actually aware of its situation?

 September 30, 2013


EDITORIAL: Cash-hungry TEPCO mixes up its priorities



The public is probably wondering if Tokyo Electric Power Co. is actually aware of the situation it is in.

TEPCO on Sept. 27 asked the Nuclear Regulation Authority to conduct safety screenings of the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture to confirm they meet the NRA’s new safety standards.

The screenings are a hurdle the utility must clear to bring its idled reactors back online.

Naomi Hirose, president of TEPCO, expressed his intention to prepare for the restart of other reactors at the plant as well.

TEPCO’s move toward resuming reactor operations is totally unacceptable.

The utility runs the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which has been crippled by an accident that is far from over. TEPCO should be focusing all of its efforts on the Fukushima disaster, including the new challenge of dealing with contaminated water leaks.

Under the current circumstances, the company certainly cannot afford to send its staff members to another nuclear power plant.

TEPCO’s push to restart its reactors is driven purely by financial reasons. If reactor operations are not resumed soon, the company’s turnaround plan will collapse.

If the reactors remain offline, the company will likely end up posting a loss for fiscal 2013 for the third straight year due mainly to ballooning costs for fossil fuel used at its thermal power plants.

Another dismal financial performance by TEPCO could prompt financial institutions to stop lending to the embattled utility.

Even if TEPCO receives approval, it will take time before the reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant are actually restarted. The company apparently believes that as long as it takes steps toward the restarts, it will be able to secure loans.

In fact, starting the process for a resumption of reactor operations was included in TEPCO’s rebuilding plan, which was drawn up last year with the government.

However, it is already obvious that the turnaround plan is untenable. It was drawn up on the premise that TEPCO would foot the bill for everything resulting from the nuclear accident, including compensation for victims, decontamination work and the decommissioning of the Fukushima reactors.

It is clear that the rebuilding plan should be reviewed. The utility must not hastily pursue reactor restarts.

One problem is the attitude of the Abe administration.

The government, a major shareholder of TEPCO, decided to take charge of the contaminated water issue at the plant. But there has been little progress in the debate over the management of TEPCO.

Overhauling TEPCO’s revival plan may raise criticism from the public. If the plan is reconsidered, taxpayer money and an electricity rate hike will likely be required to shoulder the sum needed to settle issues related to the Fukushima accident that TEPCO cannot cover by itself.

The government is also preparing to raise the consumption tax rate in April. It is not difficult to feel that Abe and his aides would rather put the TEPCO question on the back burner to prevent the situation from marring his popular economic policy.

If that is the case, the government’s announcement that it is taking over the battle against contaminated water leaks at the Fukushima plant lacks luster.

The Fukushima accident resulted from short-sighted economic calculations and a fixation on past practices that hindered information sharing and necessary safeguard measures.

In the end, promoting nuclear power itself became the primary objective.

The situation will be exacerbated if TEPCO and the government make the same mistake and stick to the hollow revival plan.

The grave lesson from the Fukushima accident is that the traditional culture surrounding nuclear energy must be remedied.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 28

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