TOKYO, Feb. 20 (Kyodo) — A Japanese nuclear power company has taken the rare step of selling some of its uranium fuel, apparently to raise money to use to repay loans amid its faltering business conditions, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.
Japan Atomic Power Co. apparently moved to secure money to repay loans due in April, amid uncertainty over when it can resume operating its three idled reactors in the wake of the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi complex.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. is also considering taking similar action as it continues to face funding difficulties following the nuclear crisis at its Fukushima complex, the sources said.
It is rare for a Japanese power company to sell uranium because the material is essential for the operation of nuclear plants and its suppliers are limited.
According to the sources, uranium, which could be diverted to military use, is procured in principle under long-term contracts. Japanese utilities import it mainly from overseas suppliers, including those in Canada.
While an official of Japan Atomic Power declined to disclose to whom it sold the uranium, it is likely the company returned it to the seller.
A senior official of a major utility said the move was an exceptional option because it likely meant selling the uranium for less than the import price.
Japan Atomic Power sells electricity to its major shareholders, which include Tokyo Electric and Kansai Electric Power Co. Although its electricity output has fallen to zero, it continues to receive "basic charges" paid by major utilities.
According to the sources, Japan Atomic Power plans to pay back 40 billion yen in loans by selling uranium and streamlining. As for another 100 billion yen in loans, major utilities are expected to continue guaranteeing payments beyond April.
In another blow to Japan Atomic Power, a panel of experts appointed by the country's nuclear regulator has agreed that a geologic fault running directly underneath a reactor at the company's Tsuruga plant is likely to be active.
The judgment, if officially endorsed by the five-member Nuclear Regulation Authority, could leave Japan Atomic Power with no option but to scrap the reactor in Fukui Prefecture.
In quake-prone Japan, plant operators are not allowed to build reactors directly above active faults.