Japan nuclear utility says power bills must go up

TOKYO (AP) — The Japanese utility behind the nuclear plant hobbled by the March tsunami said Thursday that electricity bills must go up to cover costs of switching to other forms of power.

Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, must compensate those evacuated for radiation risks, as well as the massive costs for shutting down the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

It expressed fears it might not be able to stay afloat without the extra cash. It did not say how much electricity tariffs would increase.

The March 11 tsunami damaged backup generators at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan, sending three reactors into meltdown and triggering the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Government approval is needed to raise the utility bill for consumers. Prospects for that are uncertain as the utility is under fire for the nuclear crisis, which has spewed radiation into the air and the ocean.

Raising the utility bill is likely to be seen as passing on to consumers the huge costs of resolving the nuclear disaster.

Government officials and experts have recently begun to hint that the only way out for TEPCO may be nationalization under a government bailout. But nothing has been decided.

“We are extremely sorry for our customers but we ask for understanding,” TEPCO President Toshio Nishizawa told reporters.

TEPCO says its fuel costs for fiscal 2011 are expected to increase by about 830 billion yen ($10.6 billion) from the previous year.

Compensation for victims, decontamination expenses and costs for scrapping the plant are likely to balloon to trillions of more yen (billions of dollars), and some taxpayer money has already been earmarked for a part of that bill.

The Japanese government said Wednesday it might take 40 years or more to fully decommission Fukushima Dai-ichi as that effort was unprecedented, including removing melted fuel whose exact location remains uncertain but may have fallen to the bottom of reactor’s containment vessel.

TEPCO stock, once considered a safe investment, has lost about 90 percent of its value since March, trading at 222 yen, up 5 percent, Thursday.

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