Photo/IllutrationCommunity group members from the island of Anglesey in Wales submit signatures to an industry ministry official in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on May 28. The petition calls for the scrapping of Hitachi Ltd.'s nuclear power plant project. (Rintaro Sakurai)

  • Photo/Illustraion

A government-affiliated financial institution balked at an agency’s request to pump 75 billion yen ($688 million) into Hitachi Ltd.’s nuclear power project in Britain, while the entire plan came under fire from citizen groups.

The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry asked the Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) for the investment to help finance a new nuclear power plant designed by Hitachi Ltd. on the island of Anglesey off northwest Wales.

A DBJ executive expressed a willingness to invest but is reluctant to finance more than half of the requested amount, saying of the original figure, “The risk is big.”

Under the plan, Hitachi subsidiary Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd. will be in charge of constructing two reactors for the new nuclear power plant.

Hitachi plans to disperse the risk of loss and slash its investment ratio from the current 100 percent to less than 50 percent as preconditions for the start of construction.

After the company held an extraordinary board meeting on May 28 to discuss the project, Toshiaki Higashihara, president and CEO of Hitachi, told reporters, “We have not decided anything yet.”

The company intends to make an official decision in 2019 on whether to proceed with the project. The DBJ’s reluctance to invest the full amount requested is clouding Hitachi’s financing plan.

The economy ministry, however, considers Hitachi’s project the “touchstone for exports of nuclear power technology.”

The Japanese and British governments reached a broad agreement around the end of 2017 on providing financial support for Hitachi’s project, but they have not decided on specific measures to come up with the estimated 3 trillion yen in total costs.

Under a proposed blueprint, the British government will guarantee loans worth 2 trillion yen. British companies and institutions, Hitachi, and other Japanese companies and institutions would invest 300 billion yen each to cover the remaining costs, sources said.

However, it may not be enough. Construction costs for nuclear power plants have continued to increase as tighter safety standards are being adopted around the world.

Hitachi intends to recover the construction costs through sales of electricity generated from the plant. But if it cannot sell the power at high prices, the plant could become unprofitable.

The project faces criticism from outside sources.

A community group on the island of Anglesey and a Japanese nongovernmental organization submitted to the ministry on May 28 hastily collected signatures calling for the halt of the use of taxpayers’ money for the new nuclear plant.

They also sent a letter to Hitachi, asking the company to withdraw from the project.

Objections to the nuclear plant in Wales were also expressed through a joint program of PAWB, (Pobol Atal Wylfa-B or the People Against Wylfa-B), and FoE Japan, a member of Friends of the Earth International. About 6,000 individuals or members of groups in 37 countries provided their signatures to call for the scrapping of the nuclear power plant project.

They are also demanding that the Japanese government will not guarantee loans for the project and that Japanese government-affiliated banking institutions will not extend loans.

Mei Tomos, a member of PAWB, told a meeting in Japan that it would be irresponsible to proceed with the project when there is still no solution on how to deal with radioactive waste.

Tomos urged Japanese at the gathering to express their opinions, keeping in mind the experience of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.