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Tepco, 2 other utilities team on nuclear safety

Industry seeks to preserve expertise as Japan struggles to restart reactors

Tokyo Electric Power's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture remains idle.

TOKYO -- Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings has partnered on nuclear safety with fellow utilities Chubu Electric Power and Hokuriku Electric Power, a collaboration born of necessity to preserve related staff and expertise amid the prolonged inactivity among Japan's nuclear power plants.

The three utilities said Tuesday they will conduct joint training using simulators and exchange information to develop a shared understanding. If an accident occurs, all three will send engineers and others to aid a local evacuation and to measure radioactivity. Each utility operates advanced boiling water reactors, and their adjacent service areas of greater Tokyo, greater Nagoya and the Hokuriku area along the Sea of Japan also make working together easier.

Yet the three utilities have differing interests. Hokuriku Electric has a separate arrangement with Kansai Electric Power and Shikoku Electric Power to collaborate on emergency response and other areas. These two utilities have pressurized water reactors. But Hokuriku Electric sees coordination between western and eastern Japan as important in accident response, so the utility is cultivating a wide network of partners.

Yet some observers speculate that the latest three-way partnership may deepen. Tepco, hindered by the still enormous cleanup work ahead following the Fukushima nuclear meltdown in March 2011, has become essentially state-owned. The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is pressuring the utility to consolidate key operations including nuclear power with those of other companies.

Tepco proposed establishing joint businesses as part of rebuilding plans presented to a METI expert group late last year. Tepco and Chubu Electric work together in such areas as fuel procurement and sales, and they are moving to transfer their respective fossil-fuel plants to a joint company.

But Chubu Electric has otherwise kept its distance, stressing that the collaboration covers only technical and safety improvements and will not lead to a consolidation. Hokuriku Electric echoed that the partnership seeks only to enhance the safety of nuclear power plants. Concrete plans for METI's envisioned reconfiguration of Tepco remain elusive.


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