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2013年5月14日 (火)

東電再建迷走 政府は国有化の責任を果たせ

The Yomiuri Shimbun May 14, 2013
With TEPCO racking up massive deficits, govt should do more to help
東電再建迷走 政府は国有化の責任を果たせ(5月13日付・読売社説)

A year has passed since the government approved Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Comprehensive Special Business Plan centering on a decision to place TEPCO under state control.

The circumstances surrounding the utility's management have deteriorated, however.

TEPCO's financial difficulties must not result in delaying resolution of the aftermath of the meltdowns at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and compensation payments. The government should take a more realistic approach by revamping the current framework for TEPCO's bailout and shoulder an appropriate share of the burden.

The company racked up a colossal deficit for the third straight year in its settlement of accounts for the business year ending in March. TEPCO's goal of swinging back into the black by the end of fiscal 2013 will be extremely difficult.

Inaction flagrant

If the utility fails to chalk up a profit, the utility's creditor banks could cut off lending. If the situation is left unchanged, the company's financing problem could become ever more critical.

Under the current framework, a maximum of 5 trillion yen in public funds would be loaned to TEPCO by the government to temporarily help the utility pay the compensation, under condition that the firm continue repaying the loan.

The problem is that besides the inadequate amount of government financial assistance, the current plan assumes that all costs involving the nuclear crisis must be borne by TEPCO alone.

In November, TEPCO produced an estimate that aggregate costs, including those for decommissioning the Fukushima plant's reactors and decontamination of irradiated areas, are expected to swell to more than 10 trillion yen. It called on the government to extend additional assistance.

The previous administration, led by then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, turned a deaf ear to the utility's appeal.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet also has done nothing to alleviate the situation. As TEPCO is now under state control, the government's position on the matter is flagrantly irresponsible.

In response to the request for expanded government help, Abe said at a recent meeting with TEPCO Chairman Kazuhiko Shimokobe and others that the government was "prepared to take a step forward in doing what is necessary." The prime minister, however, failed to offer specific measures.

TEPCO's management problems have worsened alarmingly because the depreciation of the yen has caused a sharp increase in the cost of fuel for thermal power plants that have replaced idled nuclear plants.

Under the circumstances, the government must waste no time in expanding assistance to TEPCO.

The cost of running nuclear plants is much lower. Restarting a single plant will reduce the utility's fuel expenditures by about 80 billion yen a year.

TEPCO plans to reactivate four of the seven reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa power plant in Niigata Prefecture this fiscal year, but no decision has been made on when this will happen.

Because Niigata Gov. Hirohiko Izumida and others are dead set against restarting the reactors, bringing them back online will be difficult.

Reactor reactivation vital

With only two reactors in the nation operating--at Kansai Electric Power Co.'s Oi plant in Fukui Prefecture--many other utilities are recording massive red figures. As electricity rates have been raised, the burden on households and companies has increased.

Although it is important for utilities to rein in rate hikes as much as possible through cost-cutting, there are limits to what they can do to restructure their businesses.

After the Nuclear Regulation Authority ensures the safety of reactors on the basis of new regulatory standards to eliminate power shortages, the reactors should be gradually brought back online to resuscitate the economy.

The government must redouble its efforts to resume nuclear power plant operations as early as possible by explaining to local entities hosting these plants about the safety measures taken and the country's need for nuclear power generation.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 13, 2013)
(2013年5月13日01時11分  読売新聞)


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