Tepco Seeks Bids for Thermal Power as Nuclear Plants Stay Idled

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will seek bids to expand its thermal-generating capacity as its nuclear reactors remain idled three years after the accident at its Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic plant.

Tepco, as Japan’s biggest utility is known, will ask for bids to provide 6 gigawatts of capacity, the company said today in a statement posted on its website. That would be the equivalent of about six nuclear reactors. Tepco’s current thermal capacity is 41.6 gigawatts. The statement didn’t specify which fuels the plants will use.

The request for bids is part of Tepco’s plan to replace aging thermal plants and cut 150 billion yen ($1.47 billion) in fuel costs. The strategy was outlined in the company’s most recent business recovery plan, which was approved by Japan’s government in January.

All of Japan’s reactors remain idled for safety checks after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. About 160,000 people were forced to evacuate because of radiation fallout, leaving Tepco with billions of dollars in compensation and cleanup expenses.

Nuclear Restarts

Tepco officials have indicated in recent months they face further delays in restarting two reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest, because of safety checks. The utility had anticipated switching the reactors back on as early as July as part of the recovery plan. Restarting one of the reactors would cut Tepco’s annual fuel costs by about 78 billion yen, the company has said.

Nuclear plants produced more than 25 percent of Japan’s electricity before the disaster, meaning it’s had to switch on oil-, coal- and gas-fired plants to make up the difference. The cost of importing those fuels has driven the country into a trade deficit for 20 straight months, while the current-account shortfall reached a record 1.6 trillion yen in January.

Tepco used record amounts of coal and liquefied natural gas in the fiscal year ended March 31, spokesman Hiroshi Itagaki said on April 9. Coal consumption more than doubled to 7.75 million metric tons from 2.89 million tons a year earlier, while LNG use rose 0.3 percent from the previous year to 23.8 million tons, according to Bloomberg News calculations based on data from the company’s website.

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