September 6, 2012 / 12:57 PM / 7 years ago

INTERVIEW-Fukushima firm Tepco hopes to restart other nuclear plant

TOKYO, Sept 6 (Reuters) - Tokyo Electric Power Co, its reputation in tatters after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, is banking on restarting its sole undamaged nuclear plant to return to profit, its president said on Thursday.

Naomi Hirose said Tepco was planning to hire outside experts as part of plans to persuade reluctant residents — and the local authority — that the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant was safe to restart.

The plant in Niigata prefecture on the west coast, the world’s largest with seven reactors, was shut for a time after a 2007 earthquake. All but two of Japan’s 50 reactors remain closed for checks after Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi plant was hit by meltdowns following an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

“Because we are the operator who caused the accident at Fukushima, it is completely understandable that the people of Niigata are worried about the restart in their home town by the same nuclear operator,” Hirose said of the Kashiwazaki plant.

“Of course, this is not easy, but I think in order to win understanding, not only ‘hard’ measures are needed but ‘soft’ steps, including in our management.”

“Hard” measures are generally seen in the nuclear industry as technical improvements, like more effective tsunami walls, backup generators or water pumps, while “soft” measures refer to management practice.

Tepco, he said in his company’s headquarters, wanted to “take better measures to avoid a recurrence of the accident and implement them at Kashiwazaki Kariwa as soon as possible”.

Tepco’s fuel costs have soared as it turns to fossil fuels for power generation after Fukushima was put out of action.

OUTSIDE SPECIALISTS

Hirose said Tepco intended to bring in outside specialists, and possibly foreigners, for a board to oversee the restart. The board was being set up after an independent probe found the Fukushima disaster resulted from “collusion” between Tepco and regulators.

Three reactors melted down at Fukushima Daiichi and 160,000 residents had to leave their homes, many never to return.

Tepco’s nearby Fukushima Daini plant was also damaged by the tsunami and the local governor has said he will not allow any of its four reactors to restart. The governor of Niigata prefecture also opposes a restart of Kashiwazaki.

Tepco posted a quarterly net loss of about $3.7 billion in August. It is also paying compensation to displaced residents and is saddled with billions of dollars of decommissioning and cleanup costs.

Hirose also questioned calls for an eventual exit from nuclear power following a groundswell of public opposition. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s Democratic Party on Thursday proposed that Japan “invest all possible policy resources to make it possible to exit nuclear power in the 2030s”.

“Japan, which is a resource-poor country, needs to have a variety of energy sources to avoid relying too much on one option,” he said. (Additional reporting by Risa Maeda; Editing by Linda Sieg and Ron Popeski)

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