Osaka: Japan on Tuesday said nationalising the beleaguered operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was "an option" but denied it had immediate plans to do so.
Tokyo Electric Power Co. has come under fire for its handling of the crisis, the world`s biggest atomic accident since Chernobyl in 1986, and looks likely to face a hefty compensation bill amid slow progress in stabilising the plant.
"It is naturally possible to hold various discussions on how TEPCO should function" in future, said Koichiro Gemba, minister of national policy, adding that nationalisation was "an option", Kyodo News reported.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano told a separate press conference that the government is "not at the moment considering nationalisation".
However, citing government sources, the Yomiuri Shimbun said Tuesday the government was examining taking a majority stake in TEPCO as well as bearing responsibility for paying liabilities stemming from the nuclear plant crisis.
By taking control of the utility, the government would also be able to help ensure that TEPCO has sufficient capital to maintain stable supplies of electricity, the Yomiuri said.
"Since the state has been promoting nuclear energy as its policy, it is necessary for the state to ultimately take responsibility," Gemba said, indicating the government will step in to cover expenses that cannot be handled by the utility, according to Kyodo.
A 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami on March 11 knocked out the cooling systems of the Fukushima plant`s six reactors -- triggering explosions and fires, releasing radiation and sparking global fears of a widening disaster.
Radiation from the plant northeast of Tokyo has wafted into the air, contaminating farm produce and drinking water, and seeped into the Pacific Ocean, although officials stress there is no imminent health threat.
TEPCO shares plunged 18.67 percent on Tuesday as concerns over its ability to manage the crisis continued to unnerve investors.
The shares closed limit down at 566 yen, a 47-year low, and have now lost nearly three quarters of their pre-crisis value.
One of the world`s biggest power companies, TEPCO boasts 44.6 million customers -- more than one third of the population of Japan -- in the Kanto region of the main island of Honshu, including Tokyo.