TEPCO asks for $9 bln in Fukushima aid: reports

TOKYO, Oct 18, 2011 (AFP) - Tokyo Electric Power Company will ask for at least 700 billion yen ($9.1 billion) in a first tranche of state aid to help cover compensation for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, reports said Tuesday.

TEPCO is seeking to receive the first disbursement from a government-backed aid institution, the Nikkei daily reported. The funds would see TEPCO avoid falling into negative net worth on its April-September balance sheet, it said.

It would also result in stronger government oversight and effectively put the utility under state management, the Nikkei reported.

The Yomiuri daily reported that TEPCO's request could reach as much as one trillion yen to cover funds needed through to March 2012, the end of its current fiscal year.

TEPCO officials did not immediately confirm the reports when contacted by AFP.

The utility is hoping to include the requested aid, which is it expected to eventually repay, in its emergency business plan to be compiled together with the government-backed aid institution by early November, the Nikkei said.

The plan will outline cost cuts, asset sales and other restructuring steps required to help it meet compensation costs -- estimated by a government panel at 4.5 trillion yen by 2013 -- and secure further state help.

The disaster started when a magnitude-9.0 quake and massive tsunami knocked out cooling systems at the Fukushima plant, sparking meltdowns, a series of explosions and the release of huge amounts of radiation into the environment.

Tens of thousands of people remain evacuated from homes and businesses in a 20 kilometre (12 mile) no-go zone around the plant and in pockets beyond. Fully restoring those areas is expected to take decades.

The task of restoring towns and villages even in lightly contaminated zones is complicated, with high costs and logistical issues concerning where to store soil contaminated with radioactive material after it is removed.

Radioactive hotspots have been found hundreds of kilometres away from the Fukushima Daiichi plant in parts of Tokyo and Yokohama.

A government panel earlier this month said that TEPCO would have to cut 7,400 jobs and slash costs by $33 billion over the next 10 years to help pay damages for the nuclear accident.

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