Japanese Anti-Nuclear Candidate’s Victory Punishes Tepco Shares

  • Niigata prefecture home to world’s biggest nuclear facility
  • Tepco says reactor restart would boost profit 10 bln yen/month

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. fell the most since June after the election victory of a gubernatorial candidate opposed to the restart of the utility’s Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant, the world’s biggest by capacity.

Ryuichi Yoneyama, who was backed by a collection of opposition parties, garnered 528,455 votes, or 52 percent of the total in Niigata, according to its election administration commission. Yoneyama said Sunday he can’t approve the restart of the seven-reactor nuclear facility in his prefecture under its current status, according to Jiji Press. Tokyo Electric, known as Tepco, dropped 7.9 percent to close at 385 yen.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has supported the revival of Japan’s nuclear fleet, which has been kept almost entirely shut by new safety regulations and public opposition following the 2011 Fukushima disaster. About 64 percent of voters in Niigata prefecture oppose returning the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant to normal operations, according to a poll conducted by Kyodo News on election day.

“The victory could delay -- perhaps for years -- the restart of Kashiwazaki Kariwa reactors,” Joseph Jacobelli, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, said in an e-mail. “Not being able to operate its nuclear reactors has driven up its power-generation costs as it had to use oil, gas and coal power, which are more expensive.”

Gas Power

Natural gas-fired power generation accounted for 65 percent of Tepco’s electricity supplies in the year ended March 31, compared with 45 percent before the Fukushima disaster. Tepco imported about 22.9 million metric tons of the fuel during the period, about 27 percent of the country’s total, according to data from the utility and the Ministry of Finance.

Tepco’s president, Naomi Hirose, earlier this month highlighted the utility’s financial vulnerability, saying it may face insolvency if it had to recognize at one time the cost of decommissioning Fukushima. Resumption of just one of Kashiwazaki Kariwa’s reactors would boost the utility’s profit by about 10 billion yen ($96 million) a month, the company has said.

Local Approval

“Senior management at Tepco have made it clear that restarting the Kashiwazaki reactors is fundamentally important to restoring their finances,” Tom O’Sullivan, founder of Tokyo-based consultant Mathyos, said by e-mail. “There now has to be significant uncertainty over restarting those reactors.”

The Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant was one of the key issues in the race to replace Hirohiko Izumida, a fierce critic of Tepco following the Fukushima disaster. The utility’s shares surged the most in more than a year after he unexpectedly announced in August that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term.

Yoneyama had pledged to carry out Izumida’s policy of pushing for a thorough review of the Fukushima accident before starting discussions on the restart of the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant.

The Japanese government maintains its policy of bringing back online nuclear plants that have met the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s safety standards, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo on Monday. The government also wants to proceed with the plan while seeking approval from local authorities, he said.

The Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant, with generating capacity of about 8.2 gigawatts, is located about 135 miles (217 kilometers) northwest of Tokyo.

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