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Tokyo, London fully behind Hitachi nuclear project in Britain

Japan and Britain have agreed to provide the lion’s share of financing for a nuclear power plant project planned by Hitachi Ltd. on the island of Anglesey off northwest Wales, sources said.

The two governments are set to extend a combined 2.2 trillion yen ($20 billion) in loans with the help of financial institutions and acquire a stake in Horizon Nuclear Power Ltd., a British company purchased by Hitachi to operate the plant.

The total cost of the project is estimated at 3 trillion yen. It is extremely rare for governments to shoulder such a huge portion of the overall project cost.

By doing so, they must share the risk if the project suffers a financial loss, but that tab could eventually be passed on to taxpayers.

Tokyo-based Hitachi plans to construct the plant at Wylfa, site of a nuclear power plant that is now being decommissioned. Plans call for two reactors to start operating in the mid-2020s.

Horizon was purchased by Hitachi from a German electric power company in 2012 for around 90 billion yen.

The Japanese and British governments reached a basic agreement in late 2017 on financing for the project, the sources said. The bulk of the funds will be in the form of loans or investments.

Japan will provide 1.1 trillion yen in loans, which will be matched by Britain.

The loans from the Japanese side will be mainly extended by the government-affiliated Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and three megabanks.

Another government-affiliated organization, Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI), is considering guaranteeing the entire 1.1 trillion yen in loans from Japan. Such an assurance is rare for a project in a developed country.

Of the remaining 800 billion yen in overall costs, 450 billion yen will be used to acquire stakes in Horizon. Hitachi will invest 150 billion yen of that amount while Japan and Britain will equally divide the remaining 300 billion yen.

The 150 billion yen from the Japanese side is expected to be provided by the government-affiliated Development Bank of Japan (DBJ) and major electric power companies.

That leaves 300 billion yen or so, which will be covered by other means.

Hitachi will decide by summer 2020 whether to proceed with the project. A key factor will be whether the company can lower its stake in Horizon from the current 100 percent to less than 50 percent.

Hitachi insists that it must do so to exclude Horizon from companies whose financial results are consolidated with its own.

The massive deficits chalked up by Toshiba Corp.’s U.S. nuclear plant subsidiary threatened the company’s very existence because its financial results were consolidated with the parent company.

If the financial framework gets the go-ahead, Hitachi’s stake in Horizon will decline to 33.3 percent.

Exports of infrastructure, such as technologies for nuclear power plants and Shinkansen bullet trains, are a pillar of the Abe administration’s strategy for economic growth.

The Hitachi project in Britain is viewed by the administration as “the biggest litmus test on whether a nuclear power plant project in a developed country will succeed or not,” according to a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Infrastructure.

That policy was the basis of the Abe administration’s negotiations with Britain on ways to support the project.

Despite the difficultly of constructing new nuclear power plants in Japan or adding reactors to current facilities in the aftermath of the 2011 nuclear disaster, the administration is keen to maintain expertise in the nuclear field because the building of nuclear power plants overseas is a growth industry.

Britain, which is committed to reducing greenhouse gases, plans to construct a number of new nuclear power plants around the country to reduce its carbon footprint before oilfields in the North Sea dry up.

As few companies in Britain have the know-how to build them, the field is dominated by French and Chinese concerns.

Hitachi initially planned only to supply reactors.

A number of countries are locked in fierce competition over the export of infrastructure for nuclear power plants. The Chinese government, for example, gives its full backing to Chinese firms in this field.

It was against this background that Hitachi purchased Horizon in 2012. The Japanese government has thrown its full backing behind Hitachi as it regards Britain as a promising market for exports of nuclear power plant technologies.

Source: The Asahi Shimbun

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