Japanese PM to step up nuclear export drive, says report

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan's prime minister is expected to sign a nuclear cooperation deal with the Czech Republic this month, a report said on Saturday, as Tokyo looks to build up its exports of the technology.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Czech President Milos Zeman have all but agreed to sign a memorandum of understanding on mutual nuclear technology cooperation when they meet in Poland on June 16, the Nikkei business daily said.

Nuclear power has been a sensitive issue in Japan since a quake and tsunami wiped out the Fukushima atomic plant in 2011, sparking the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years, but Mr Abe has been keen to promote the industry since taking office in December.

The memorandum is expected to include a statement that the Czech Republic will use Japanese nuclear technology.

It will also make US nuclear plant builder Westinghouse Electric, a unit of Japan's Toshiba Corp., the top candidate to win a US$10 billion (S$12.5 billion) contract to build two nuclear reactors in the Central European country, the daily said.

Mr Abe is due to meet the leaders of Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary in Poland while on his way to the June 17-18 Group-of-Eight summit in Northern Ireland, the Nikkei added.

The Czech nuclear project entails adding a third and fourth reactor to the Temelin nuclear power station in South Bohemia.

Czech national power producer CEZ AS is looking to start operating the new reactors in 2020 or later.

The report said that Westinghouse's proposal had received the highest evaluation in a pre-screening process.

Japan has stepped up efforts to export its nuclear technology since Mr Abe's conservative Liberal Democratic Party won a landslide election in December, toppling the centre-left Democratic Party.

The Democrats had been reluctant to restart nuclear power plants and continue with nuclear technology exports after the Fukushima disaster.

In May, Japan and Turkey signed a deal to build a sprawling nuclear power plant on Turkey's Black Sea coast. Japan also signed a nuclear cooperation deal with the United Arab Emirates.

Tokyo has also agreed with India to accelerate talks on civil nuclear cooperation.

After talks in Tokyo on Friday, Mr Abe and French President Francois Hollande said they would cooperate in developing nuclear power technologies and promoting the sector's exports to emerging economies.