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Japan's Tepco to restart nuclear reactors?

TOKYO, Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The Japanese government has approved a business turnaround plan submitted by Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, which includes restarting idled reactors at the utility's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.

The business plan approval is required under the terms of a $10 billion state bailout of Tepco, received after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster that was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami.

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The approval would allow the utility to receive an additional $38 billion in state funding, the Wall Street Journal reports.

Tepco is facing massive costs of cleaning up the Fukushima plant and huge compensation payments to those affected by the disaster. The overall decommissioning of the facility is expected to take around 40 years.

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Japanese Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, when handing over the approval document Wednesday, told Tepco President Naomi Hirose: "This new plan is a promise with the nation. You are being given the opportunity to remain operating so that you can complete paying compensation, decommissioning the facility and providing a stable electricity supply."

All 50 of Japan's working reactors currently remain offline, pending safety checks.

Tepco's revival plan calls for restarting four reactors at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, which had supplied electricity to the Tokyo metropolitan area.

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Tepco aims to resume operations at the plant's No. 6 and 7 reactors as early as July. In September 2013, the utility applied for Nuclear Regulation Authority safety checks on those two reactors.

The utility has faced drastic increases for fuel costs for thermal power it has used to generate electricity to compensate for its idled nuclear reactors.

Tepco says that restarting one reactor would cut between $959 million to $1.39 billion in annual operating costs, the Japan Times reports.

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Tepco's plan says that the utility may have to seek an electricity rate hike of as much as 10 percent by next fall, if the resumption of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in Niigata is delayed much past July.

"If the plant remains idled, losses will incur, and the public won't agree on increases in electricity charges when the utility tries to cover losses," Mana Nakazora, BNP Paribas SA's chief credit analyst in Tokyo was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. "The company faces a risk that its plan won't work if resumption of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant is delayed."

But Niigata's governor, who has opposed the restart of the reactors in his prefecture, was critical of Tepco's plan, saying it doesn't indicate any improvement in the utility's approach to safety.

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"This is a strange plan from the viewpoint of safety culture. It is difficult to feel that your company has changed its stance toward safety," the governor, Hirohiko Izumida, told Tepco's president Thursday, Kyodo News reports. Izumida urged Tepco to thoroughly investigate the Fukushima disaster.

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