Japan's Edano wants to see Tepco plan before judging

Reuters News
|
Posted: Sep 15, 2011 11:04 AM
Japan's Edano wants to see Tepco plan before judging

By Risa Maeda and Taiga Uranaka

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's new trade minister, Yukio Edano, said he wants to see Tokyo Electric Power Co's (Tepco) plans for recovery from a radiation crisis before determining if its creditors are shouldering a fair share of the burden in its taxpayer-funded bailout.

"It's not yet the time for me to say what specific cooperation (from the utility's stakeholders) should be necessary to get government approval for funds," Edano said in a group interview on Thursday.

Edano had revived the possibility this week that the government might pressure creditors of Tepco, operator of the tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, to waive some of the utility's hefty debt, saying that creditors and shareholders should share in the burden of restructuring.

Bankers have said they are already shouldering a fair share of the burden by maintaining loans to the utility, which has lost its once-spotless credit status.

The bailout facility, expected to become operative next month, will be funded by taxpayers' money and contributions from nuclear power operators.

It will provide Tepco an unlimited pool of funds to pay compensation for damages from the radiation crisis, which the utility will pay back over an extended period of many years.

Tepco must prepare an extraordinary operating plan, likely to include asset sales, cost cuts and other restructuring measures, and get government approval before receiving bailout funds.

Edano said the utility and its creditors should discuss the burden to be taken on by stakeholders as it hammers out the operating plan.

PUBLIC CONCERNS

The radiation crisis has triggered a sharp drop in nuclear power generation, as it eroded public trust in safety and led communities to reject the restart of reactors idled for maintenance, but Edano believed that regional power firms would probably be able to supply enough power this winter, partly by sharing surplus power.

He added that natural gas had become an important source of fuel for power generation in the short term to make up for the loss from nuclear plants, and that the government planned financial support to importers to ensure stable supplies from abroad.

But the power supply and demand situation is not yet clear for next summer, he said, when all of Japan's reactors could be shut unless safety worries are addressed and communities are willing to allow restarts.

"The situation next summer is a different matter," he said. "We want to make utmost efforts not to impose mandatory energy savings on industries."

He reiterated that reactor restarts would depend on local communities' evaluations of stress tests that are being conducted by the utilities and must be reported to regulators.

For the longer term, Edano said he was dedicated to a policy that maximizes energy conservation and power generation from renewable sources, but was ready to tap nuclear power to meet the country's remaining needs.

Edano was appointed to the trade portfolio, which includes energy policy, on Monday, after his predecessor resigned just eight days into the job due to gaffes over the Fukushima crisis.

He previously served as chief cabinet secretary, when he insisted that Tepco's shareholders and creditors should not benefit from the utility's bailout scheme. His comments on stakeholders' responsibilities at one point rattled markets, where Tepco is the largest issuer of Japanese corporate bonds.

Japan's top banks were among lenders that provided about 2 trillion yen ($26 billion) in emergency loans to Tepco in the immediate aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which triggered the world's worst nuclear crisis in a quarter century.

As of the end of June, Tepco had a little more than 4 trillion yen in outstanding loans and another 4.7 trillion yen in outstanding corporate bonds.

"I don't anticipate the need to waive debt for Tepco at all," Katsunori Nagayasu, chairman of the Japanese Bankers Association, said at a news conference on Thursday.

"Our understanding is that (the bailout scheme) was formulated on the premise of not letting Tepco become insolvent and no need for debt waivers," he said.

(Editing by Edmund Klamann)