Operator of wrecked Japan nuclear plant pledges improvements

Reuters

* Tepco drafts in workers, promises improvements inFukushima cleanup

* Pledges from banks depend on starting on restarting otherreactors

* Regulator says Tepco must prove it can properly managenuclear plants

By Mari Saito and Yoshifumi Takemoto

TOKYO, Oct 15 (Reuters) - The operator of Japan's wreckedFukushima nuclear plant, under fire to put right repeatedcontamination mishaps, promised on Tuesday to draft in extraworkers and improve equipment as part of plans to make the sitesafe and keep the company solvent.

Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco, has beenreprimanded twice in as many months by Japan's nuclear regulatorfor mismanagement in a cleanup operation more than 2 1/2 yearsafter the Fukushima Daiichi plant was struck by an earthquakeand tsunami.

Though the company has posted more than $27 billion in netlosses since the disaster, it has received pledges of financingfrom banks totalling $5.9 billion.

Much of that, however, is contingent on Tepco securing theregulator's approval to restart two of seven reactors at anotherof its plants, the world's largest nuclear plant.

"We will increase the workforce at Fukushima Daiichi nuclearpower plant  and make sure we have an accurate grasp of thesituation, follow procedures, introduce proper communicationsand instructions needed to carry out competent management of thesite," Tepco said in a statement after submitting a report tothe regulator.

The increase, it said, would bring to 200 the number ofworkers drafted in since September to deal with contaminatedwater. The cleanup of the disaster, the worst nuclear crisissince Chernobyl in 1986, is expected to take decades.

Tepco has been battling the rising contaminated water atFukushima, 220 km (130 miles) northeast of Tokyo, that isleaking into the adjacent Pacific Ocean.

After months of denials, Tepco acknowledged in July that thewater was flowing into the sea from the wrecked reactorbuildings. Last week, it said radiation levels in nearbyseawater had soared to the highest level in two years.

JAPAN WITHOUT NUCLEAR

Japan shut down all 50 of its reactors for safety checks inresponse to a wave of public revulsion after three meltdowns atFukushima caused mass contamination and evacuations in theaftermath of the 2011 tsunami.

Two reactors restarted last year, but are now off line formaintenance, leaving the country without power generated fromnuclear plants for only the third time in more than 40 years.

The chairman of Japan's new Nuclear Regulatory Agency (NRA)has said Tepco must prove its cleanup operations at Fukushimaare in order before its plan to fire up two reactors at thegiant Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant on Japan's west coast can beapproved.

NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said last month it had to bedetermined whether Tepco "has the technological ability tooperate a nuclear power plant".

In its submission on Tuesday, Tepco said it had taken stepsto improve safety at Kashiwazaki Kariwa based on lessons learnedfrom the 2011 disaster.

But an early restart of the two new reactors is unlikely. Adelay in Tepco's plan to have them running by the end of themonth has already prompted the company to revise itsreorganisation plan to cut costs and restore its finances.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, making a successful pitch lastmonth to stage the 2020 Olympic Games, declared the plantstable. But he has also ordered Tepco to set deadlines forstopping leaks.

The government, which controls Tepco after a capitalinjection last year, will "respect" any decision by the NRA on arestart, an official familiar with the issues told Reuters.

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