By Osamu Tsukimori and Aaron Sheldrick
TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's Tokyo Electric Power Co said on Thursday it will seek partners for its nuclear business as part of a recovery plan after the Fukushima disaster of six years ago brought the utility to its knees and put it under state control.
The company, known as Tepco, is trying to place itself on a sounder financial footing after the government in December almost doubled its estimate for the costs related to the Fukushima disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($188 billion).
It is the third attempt to boost its finances in the six years since the disaster, after the targets in previous plans proved to be unattainable.
Central to its efforts to boost profits and pay for the costs of the disaster is the restart of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa (KK) nuclear plant in northern Japan, the world's biggest power station not including hydroelectric dams.
Tepco estimates it can cut costs by between 40 billion and 90 billion yen a year for each reactor it restarts at the seven-unit station. It is now aiming for a restart of the first unit at the power station during the year through March 2020.
However, the governor of Japan's Niigata prefecture, where KK is located, is opposed to a restart without a review of its safety plans, which could take several years. It also must resubmit applications with the national atomic regulator.
"Tepco has a responsibility to communicate effectively on why KK is different from Fukushima, what actions they have taken since the accident and why it is very unlikely that an accident like that will ever happen again," Dale Klein, the chairman of a committee advising Tepco on nuclear safety, said on Thursday.
An earthquake in 2007 near the KK plant caused radiation leaks and damaged facilities and Tepco has been criticized for not taking the threat of natural disasters seriously along with a bungled response to the bigger Fukushima disaster.
In the world's worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors at Tepco's Fukushima plant had meltdowns after an earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan in March 2011.
Finding partners for Tepco's nuclear business will be difficult. Top executives of Tohoku Electric Power and Chubu Electric Power, which operate in regions abutting Tepco's service area, have said they were not considering any nuclear tie-ups with Tepco.
Yet government officials in charge of the fund that holds the shares in the company said on Thursday it was "essential" that Tepco find partners for its nuclear and transmission businesses.
Tepco submitted the revised business plan to the government, which is expected to give its approval after providing its own input over the last few months.
Tepco plans to allocate 500 billion yen annually in the coming decades to pay for decommissioning at Fukushima and compensation.
Tepco is estimating net profit of 288 billion yen in the year through March 2018, more than double the year earlier period. Revenue is forecast to rise to 5.75 trillion yen from 5.36 trillion yen.
(Editing by Joseph Radford and Christian Schmollinger)