To deal with rapidly rising costs and other difficulties, four major companies are considering jointly constructing and operating nuclear power plants, sources said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., Chubu Electric Power Co., Hitachi Ltd. and Toshiba Corp. are aiming to reach a basic agreement in late August toward the joint plan, according to the sources.

Since the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011, nuclear power generation businesses have been struggling. Subsequently, the four firms are aiming to maintain their businesses by jointly tackling the costs, they said.

However, since there is a difference of opinion among the four companies about how to realize joint operations, it is uncertain whether the plan will become a reality, they added.

Since the summer of 2018, executives of the four companies have regularly held meetings with officials of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to discuss the plan.

Each of the four firms have tackled construction or operation of boiling water reactors, the same type as those used in the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Since the 2011 nuclear accident at the plant, electric power companies have been facing difficulties in restarting operations of existing reactors. Construction of new reactors is also difficult.

In addition, electric power companies’ costs for new safety measures have risen sharply. As a result, their interests have clashed with those of electric power plant manufacturers.

The situation has become one of the factors that have led the four firms to consider jointly constructing and operating nuclear power plants.

As for its nuclear power generation businesses, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said in its management reconstruction plan worked out in 2017 that it will realign and unify the businesses through establishment of a joint enterprise.

The company has already started construction of the Higashidori nuclear power plant in Aomori Prefecture though the construction is now suspended.

To restart the construction, the firm has sounded out other major electric power companies and nuclear power plant makers about a plan of jointly constructing and operating the plant.

By jointly tackling the construction and operation, the company is aiming to share sharply rising construction costs and make it easier to secure profits.

However, there are major risks, such as compensation payments in the event of a nuclear accident. Therefore, caution toward joint operations is running strong in Hitachi and Toshiba, which have not previously operated nuclear plants.

To eliminate anxieties over such risks among the nuclear power plant makers, changes in systems will be required, including to exempt them from compensation payments at the time of a nuclear accident.

Some of the related people envisage that joint operation by the four firms will lead to the realignment of the entire nuclear power generation businesses and further to concentration of related human resources and technologies and to construction and export of new nuclear reactors.

However, harsh public opinion and circumstances are weighing against nuclear power generation. Therefore, some other people feel that realignment will be difficult unless the government expands support or systems are changed.

(This article was written by Rintaro Sakurai and Tsuneo Sasai.)