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Japanese nuclear reactor likely to be shut down after earthquake

The company that runs the nuclear power plant severely damaged by a magnitude 6.8 earthquake in northwestern Japan said Thursday it is still estimating damages 10 days after the temblor and does not know when it can reopen.

The Japanese daily Mainichi reported Thursday that a delay in resuming operations at the Kashiwazaki Kariwa plant in Niigata prefecture (state) - the world's largest nuclear power facility - could result in 200 billion yen (US$1.66 billion; EUR 1.21 billion) in losses for the fiscal year ending March 2008.

The losses at Tokyo Electric Power Co., which runs the plant, would arise because it might be forced to restart oil and gas plants, which are less cost-efficient than nuclear power plants, the report said.

TEPCO is still assessing the damage from the July 16 quake and does not yet know how much the shutdown will cost, company spokesman Jun Oshima said Thursday.

The company has also not yet decided when the plant, which has been shuttered since the deadly quake, will resume operations, Oshima said, adding that it is considering restarting its oil and gas plants.

News reports Wednesday cited the head of a government-appointed panel investigating quake damage at the plant as saying it could take at least a year before the plant will reopen.

The earthquake July 16 struck off the coast of Niigata, about 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the epicenter. It killed 11 people and injured more than 1,000.

TEPCO has came under fire for being too slow in notifying the public about quake damage at the plant, including radioactive water sloshing out of a tank and into the sea, and radioactive material venting into the air.

TEPCO has also said that parts of a six-meter (20-foot) crane inside the reactor building at one of the facility's seven reactors had been mangled - the first damage to be found so close to a reactor.

Oshima said officials will conduct more detailed inspections at three of the six other reactor buildings Thursday.

Work to repair the plant will not likely begin before the arrival of officials from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, who are expected to inspect the plant in the next few weeks.

In order to make up for a power shortage due to the shutdown, six other power companies have agreed to provide emergency electricity on TEPCO's request.

Also on Thursday, Greenpeace said its own inspections on Friday confirmed the level of radiation near the reactors did not surpass the normal level.

The environmental group urged the government to thoroughly investigate the plant in its newsletter published Thursday, as "the possibility of further nuclear leak from the plant cannot be denied."