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The Cost of Cleaning up Fukushima

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The Abe administration has decided to use taxpayer money for decontaminating areas in Fukushima Prefecture off-limits to people due to fallout of radioactive substances from the March 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant. The decision, which deviates from the current policy that Tepco should pay for the decontamination efforts, reflects a proposal put forward in August by the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito but never discussed by the government’s council of experts or in the Diet.

The government may want to justify the move as an effort to help accelerate evacuees’ return to their hometown communities. Still, it will be difficult for the administration to evade criticism that the measure is nothing but a taxpayer-funded bailout for Tepco, which is responsible for the nuclear fallout that affected so many people in Fukushima.

By proceeding with the decontamination work, the administration hopes to lift evacuation orders in some of the no-go areas in about five years. It is hoped these areas will serve as bases for activities to promote reconstruction from the nuclear disaster. As the first step, the government plans to set aside ¥30 billion in the fiscal 2017 budget. So far, no full-scale cleanup work has been carried out inside these zones, which straddle seven municipalities around the Tepco plant.

The government’s position is that it is safe for evacuees to return to their communities if the annual cumulative dose there is 20 millisieverts (mSv) or less, although the legal limit allowed for people in normal circumstances is 1 mSv. The millisievert is a measure of the absorption of radiation by the human body. In no-go zones, the annual dose tops 50 mSv and is not expected to fall below 20 mSv in the next five years.

Faithful to the standard polluter pays principle, which was also applied to the Minamata mercury poisoning disaster in the 1950s and ’60s, the special law to cope with the damage from the Fukushima disaster stipulates that Tepco should shoulder the cleanup cost, and when decontamination work is paid for by taxpayer money, the utility must later reimburse the government. Now the government plans to revise the special law on decontamination and other legislation so it can pay for the planned decontamination work in Fukushima. To counter possible criticism that the scheme is intended merely to help Tepco, the government argues that the planned work aims to improve public infrastructure in the no-go zones so evacuees can return. However, the work will include scraping off top soil and cutting down trees, making it no different than decontamination efforts in other areas.

To justify the use of taxpayer money, the government also says that Tepco has paid compensation to evacuees from the no-go zones on the assumption that they would not be able to return to their homes over an extended period. Thus, in a revised guideline for the reconstruction of Fukushima Prefecture, the government says it will pay for the planned decontamination without asking for reimbursement from Tepco.

Behind the government’s decision for the use of taxpayer money is the mushrooming expense of decontamination, with the latest estimate rising from the original ¥2.5 trillion to ¥4 trillion, which does not include the cost of cleaning up the no-go areas. The government expects the planned work in those areas to cost roughly ¥300 billion over five years, but the price tag could rise if the work becomes protracted. And the burden on taxpayers may further increase if the scope of government-paid decontamination in those areas is expanded.

In a related move, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry has come up with an idea to pass part of the cost of Tepco’s compensation for Fukushima disaster victims on to consumers in the form of higher electricity bills, as the total estimated cost for decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 plant, compensation and decontamination has swollen from the original ¥11 trillion to ¥21.5 trillion. These moves not only increase people’s financial burden but also blur the power company’s responsibility for the devastation it caused. The government may say the measures are necessary to help promote reconstruction in Fukushima. But they could distract public attention from the principle that it is Tepco which must pay for the decommissioning of its reactors, compensation for the victims and cleanup of the contaminated areas.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2016/12/23/editorials/cost-cleaning-fukushima/#.WF15Dlzia-c

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December 25, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | 1 Comment

State funds to be used for clean-up in Fukushima

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The Japanese government, for the first time, is using state funds for decontamination work in areas affected by the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima Prefecture.

The environment ministry earmarked roughly 30 billion yen, or about 250 million dollars, in the fiscal 2017 budget plan, which was approved by the Cabinet on Thursday.

The allocation will be for cleaning up no-entry areas where radiation levels remain prohibitively high.

The government has so far made the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, pay for the cleanup, based on the principle that the entity responsible for the contamination should bear the cost.

Some lawmakers within the governing coalition are opposed to the turnaround in policy, saying the government should continue to make TEPCO pay.

Environment minister Koichi Yamamoto told reporters on Thursday that the ministry will carefully explain the decision in an effort to seek public understanding on the use of state funds.

The Environment Ministry says it estimates the cost of decontamination work carried out by TEPCO so far at around 36 billion dollars.

But the cleanup of the heavily-contaminated areas that starts from fiscal 2017 is expected to be more time- and labor-consuming than the work in lesser tainted areas.

https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/20161222_21/

December 23, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , | Leave a comment

Government to help fund Fukushima decontamination, easing Tepco’s burden

Easing Tepco fuck-ups with taxpayers money!

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The Cabinet decided Tuesday that the central government will help pay to decontaminate areas worst hit by the 2011 Fukushima reactor meltdowns, marking a shift from earlier rules requiring Tepco to foot the bill.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s team endorsed a plan to set up a reconstruction hub in the most contaminated, off-limits areas in Fukushima Prefecture and secure about ¥30 billion for decontamination work in the fiscal 2017 budget.

The cost of the work could total around ¥300 billion in the next five years and grow further depending on how it progresses.

The plan is in line with proposals made in August by the ruling coalition, but no government panel review or Diet deliberations have been held on it, raising the prospect that it could be criticized as a bailout for Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.

The government decided to add the decontamination work, including soil and tree removal, to infrastructure projects for making the affected land habitable again, but the special law on decontamination states that Tepco should shoulder the expenses.

The government will have to revise the special law on rebuilding Fukushima to accommodate the shift.

The move to help pay for the decontamination came after the expected price tag surged to ¥4 trillion from the previous estimate of ¥2.5 trillion, which did not include the cost of cleaning the areas with the highest levels of radiation.

If the government-funded cleaning area expands, the use of taxpayer money is likely to balloon to several trillion yen.

Meanwhile, in an effort to turn Tepco’s business fortunes around, the government proposed that the battered utility work together with other companies in operating nuclear power plants and distributing power.

A panel of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry urged the company to launch talks with other power companies next year and set up a joint venture in the early 2020s to eventually consolidate their businesses.

Tepco reform will be the basis of reconstruction in Fukushima and could lead to a new, stronger utilities industry,” said industry minister Hiroshige Seko.

We will profoundly accept the proposal and drastically carry out reform,” said Tepco President Naomi Hirose.

http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2016/12/20/national/government-help-fund-fukushima-decontamination-easing-tepcos-burden/#.WFj6NFzia-c

December 23, 2016 Posted by | Fukushima 2016 | , , | Leave a comment