Japan utility: No money for renewables

Posted: September 08, 2012

TOKYO - The head of the Japanese utility that owns the tsunami-damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant says last year's meltdowns sapped away money it might have used to switch to alternative energy, making it all the more important for the company to stick with nuclear.

Naomi Hirose, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., said that it was "quite troubling" that the government, responding to public opinion, was moving toward eliminating nuclear power, but he said that Tepco would follow whatever energy policy Japan adopts.

The March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami wiped out the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant and caused extensive radioactive meltdowns that took months to control and will take decades to clean up. It was the world's worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl. Tepco was saddled with huge compensation and cleanup costs after the nuclear crisis. The company was nationalized in July after receiving a trillion-yen ($12.8 billion) public bailout.

The company had attempted some diversification of its energy mix before the tsunami. Tepco built three mega-solar power plants and more than a dozen windmills.

But the utility's difficult financial picture following the crisis means it lacks the money to invest in renewable energy, Hirose told the Associated Press at Tepco headquarters in Tokyo.

Before the accident, Japan relied on nuclear power for one-third of its electricity needs and was planning to increase that to 50 percent by 2030. Since then, the country's 50 reactors have been shut down for routine tests. In the face of strong public opposition, only two have been restarted.

"Honestly, a change of policy from 50 percent [nuclear dependency] to zero is quite troubling," he said. But he added that Tepco will follow any energy mix the government decides as part of its energy policy.

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