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Huge losses at nuclear plant firm

The utility company behind the unfolding Japanese nuclear disaster has reported a 571.7 billion yen (£4.5 billion) quarterly loss, and its president is expecting the red ink to swell further over restoration and compensation costs.

Tokyo Electric Power's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant was sent into meltdown by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, and has still not been brought under control.

Some 80,000 people have been evacuated from a no-entry zone, and residents, farmers and fishermen are demanding damage payments.

The company's president Toshio Nishizawa said he still does not know the size of the losses the company will suffer overall because of various factors. A bailout is expected to be needed.

Mr Nishizawa, who took office recently after his predecessor resigned over the nuclear disaster, said he did not know how much of a government bailout may be needed to ride out the disaster, but promised that his company was trying to take care of problems on its own by selling assets and cutting costs.

"We will put in our best effort," he told reporters at the Tokyo headquarters. "We have not been able to make an assessment at this time."

The utility, known as Tepco, had a loss of 5.4 billion yen (£42.7 million) in the April-June quarter the previous year.

At least three reactors at Fukushima Dai-ichi were damaged, and began spewing radiation into the air and ocean, after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake set off a towering tsunami that damaged back-up generators for critical cooling systems for the nuclear fuel.

Another factor hitting Tepco's bottom line is how Japanese companies are cutting back on electricity consumption by 15% because of possible power shortages caused by the Fukushima Dai-ichi woes. Tepco said electricity sales in the fiscal first quarter slid 12% from the same period the previous year.

Another nuclear plant, in central Japan, has also been shut down over growing fears about the safety of plants against quakes and tsunami.

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