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Japanese nuke industries need foreign business desperately

October 16, 2012


Lithuanian vote against nuke plants casts shadow on Japan reactor makers' strategy



Lithuanians have voted against building new nuclear reactors in a non-binding referendum, forcing the likely contractor for the project Hitachi as well as Japan's two other major nuclear reactor makers to reconsider their strategy in vital foreign markets.

With the Japanese government aiming for the elimination of nuclear power in this country by the 2030s, foreign customers have become essential to the survival of the nuclear technology businesses at Hitachi, Toshiba Corp. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Reacting to the Lithuanian referendum, Hitachi on Oct. 15 stated that "the anti-nuclear project result is regrettable." Hitachi and the Lithuanian government reached a provisional agreement in March this year on the construction of an Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR)-based power plant. ABWRs are revised version boiling water reactors like those at the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, with the changes -- including the installation of an internal coolant pump actually inside the reactor pressure vessel -- focused on improved safety.

Under the plan for its nuclear power business released in June this year, Hitachi stated it was aiming to boost foreign sales to account for some 50 percent of total sales by fiscal 2020. The plan foresaw using the successful sale to Lithuania to leverage lucrative foreign nuclear technology sales and boost Hitachi's overall sales to some 360 billion yen annually -- more than twice the figure for fiscal 2011.

This month, however, the Lithuanian reactor agreement -- which had already been approved by that country's parliament in June -- was put to a referendum in tandem with parliamentary elections. In the wake of the election, it looks most likely that a coalition of opposition parties calling for a rethink of the Hitachi deal will form the next government.

"We will do our utmost to cooperate with the new parliament as needed," a Hitachi representative stated, but should the opposition group take power, it is very possible that Lithuania could reconsider the entire reactor agreement. What's more, Lithuania is unlikely to be an isolated case. A zero-nuclear policy is gaining traction world-wide, and the ground beneath Japan's reactor makers' global sales strategy could shift significantly.

Meanwhile the nuclear unit of Toshiba, an affiliate of United States nuclear reactor maker Westinghouse Electric Co., is shooting for sales of 1 trillion yen in fiscal 2017 through deals in Turkey and other nations. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, too, is hunting down foreign clients, partnering with France's Areva on the development of a mid-sized 1.1 million kilowatt-capacity reactor and shooting for a plant contract in Jordan. Mitsubishi Heavy is projecting fiscal 2014 sales of 400 billion yen for its nuclear business -- 1.6 times the amount for fiscal 2010.

Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi Heavy, however, are not the only competitors in what could be a shrinking global market. South Korea, Canada and China are also bidding on the Turkish contract coveted by Toshiba, while Mitsubishi is facing a Russian challenge in Jordan. Both Toshiba and Mitsubishi Heavy are sure to be watching the Lithuanian situation carefully.

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