TOKYO, Jan. 15 (Xinhua) -- The Japanese government on Wednesday approved a government revival and restructuring plan for Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken nuclear facility in Fukushima Prefecture that suffered multiple meltdowns following a quake-triggered tsunami in March 2011.
The new turnaround plan, green-lit by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), will see the embattled utility receive 4 trillion yen (38.3 billion U.S. dollars) in additional state backing and espouse the sale by the end of fiscal 2016 of some of its 50.1 percent stake it holds.
The comes under an agreement to assist TEPCO's huge compensation burden, following the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986.
The plan will also see the utility's Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant, in Niigata Prefecture, have its No. 6 and No. 7 reactors brought back online from July, despite vociferous local and national opposition to the move, in a bid to ease the country' s financial outlay on fossil fuel imports.
The fuel imports have skyrocketed of late due to the yen's slide against its major counterparts, the trade ministry suggested Wednesday.
"This new plan is a promise with the nation. You are being given the opportunity to remain operating so that you can complete paying compensation, decommissioning the facility and providing a stable electricity supply," industry minister Toshimitsu Motegi cautioned TEPCO chief Naomi Hirose, as he handed him the approval document Wednesday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA), however, believes that the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant must undergo a number of expensive and highly technical upgrades and alterations to its boiling water systems, before it clears safety checks and Hirohiko Izumida, the governor of Niigata prefecture, could be another stumbling block in the government's latest revival plans, observers said.
Motegi and Hirose have both been quoted as saying that the government's assumptions about the plan and any restarts of reactors in Niigata, may not necessarily be in sync, although the pair agreed Wednesday that compensating those who lost their homes and businesses due to the nuclear disaster and the overall decommissioning of the stricken Fukushima plant are "national priorities."
"TEPCO will throw all available resources at taking responsibility for Fukushima. We will compensate every last person and the company has many things to do in order for residents to return quickly," Hirose said.
A delay in the restart schedule may lead to a hike in electricity rates, TEPCO said, but following wholesale restructuring initiatives the utility said its new streamlined business is aiming to report a recurring profit of 167.7 billion yen (1.62 billion U.S. dollars) in the year through March 2015.
TEPCO also plans to cut its fuel costs by collaborating with partner firms in joint ventures to give it more negotiating power, officials from the utility said of the new plan.
In light of TEPCO being plagued by problems since the March disaster and grappling to contain a massive daily influx of contaminated water in hastily built storage tanks on the premises, some of which have sprung leaks, causing toxic water to flow freely into the adjacent Pacific Ocean, Izumida is vociferously calling for the utility's total liquidation, rather than state- backed rehabilitation.
He has pointed to instances where a tank was overfilled with water by workers, causing radioactive water to spew over the tank' s top and human error being responsible for a worker mistakenly removing a pipe connected to a desalination treatment system used to treat water housed to keep melted fuel cool, causing more than seven tons of radioactive water to leak from the pipe for around 50 minutes.
In addition, a vital pump used to inject water to cool nuclear fuel inside the No.1 turbine building at the Fukushima plant was switched off due to a worker mistakenly pressing a stop button on a switchboard.
The cooling of nuclear fuel was temporarily suspended in two of the complex's containment units and the decontamination of radioactive gases was also halted due to the error.
The overall decommissioning of the plant is expected to take around 40 years, with the removal of all nuclear fuel from the No. 4 reactor building being completed by the end of this year, TEPCO has said, prompting Izumida to once again publicly call for a boycott of the government's latest rehabilitation plans, believing the company is ill-equipped to operate nuclear power stations, following its numerous failings.