Okuma, Fukushima Pref., April 17 (Jiji Press)–A restaurant of a Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. employee dormitory in an Fukushima Prefecture exclusion zone designated after the March 2011 nuclear accident was opened Monday to local residents who make temporary visits to their homes.
It is the first restaurant that can be used by residents of the town of Okuma, one of the host municipalities of TEPCO’s disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, since the accident at the plant forced a blanket evacuation.
The staff restaurant, Okuma Shokudo, has about 240 seats and is open to the general public from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., except on weekends and national holidays. It offers 21 menu items at the prices for TEPCO employees.
The restaurant operator, Torifuji Honten, is now based in the Fukushima city of Iwaki after evacuating from its head office in the town of Tomioka, also in the northeastern prefecture.
“We hope to contribute to disaster reconstruction if only a little bit,” said Takanobu Mori, 49-year-old manager of the TEPCO staff restaurant.
‘Expendable’: Masaru Ikeda, a former worker at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, is suing Tepco for failing to take adequate precautions against radiation exposure. Following his second stint at the stricken plant, Ikeda was diagnosed with leukemia, which labor authorities have said is linked to the radiation he was exposed to at the plant.
Eight-year-old Kenji hands his mother a tissue, which she uses to dry her eyes beneath thick-rimmed spectacles, her free hand giving her son’s closely cropped jet-black hair a gentle stroke. Michiko Ikeda has cried before, deeply, achingly, she admits, during a darker time when she faced the very real prospect of having to raise Kenji and his two siblings alone.
Then, Masaru, her husband of 15 years, had been diagnosed with leukemia following stints working at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and the neighboring Fukushima No. 2 facility, starting in the fall of 2011.
“Even when he first said it was leukemia I thought it must be a mistake,” Michiko says as the afternoon sun streams through the window of the front room of her home in western Japan. “When the hospital confirmed it, my mind went blank. I couldn’t stop crying, wherever I went. The only image I had in my head was that my husband was going to die.”
The road to Fukushima for Masaru Ikeda began to unfold the day after the March 2011 disasters, when images from the tsunami-devastated Tohoku coast flooded the TV and internet. Among them was footage of bodies being laid out in a makeshift morgue, the feet and legs sticking out from beneath mud-encrusted blankets clearly belonging to children.
“It was overwhelming and I couldn’t help wondering how I’d feel if it was my kids lying there,” says Masaru, 42, who, after 10 months of cancer treatment, was discharged from his hospital cleanroom, the cancer having been found to be one step short of incurable. “I knew I had to to do something to help.”
Shortly after, his boss at the construction company where he worked told him about a Fukushima contractor who was looking for labor to assist with the ongoing battle to bring the devastated nuclear facility under control. Even though he had never set foot in a nuclear power plant before, Ikeda’s 15 years of experience as a welder would be invaluable.
“He asked if any of us were prepared to go up there, but nobody wanted to take the risk,” he says, adding that he, too, had initially hesitated. “I talked with colleagues and they said, ‘The workers at “1F” are like kamikaze pilots.’ … I still wanted to go, not for the sake of the country, but for the people of Tohoku.”
His family and friends objected vehemently. His father told him bluntly that if he went, he’d end up getting leukemia.
“He didn’t say ‘cancer,’ or another illness, but ‘leukemia,’ possibly because of what happened after Hiroshima,” Ikeda says, referring to the leukemia that was the earliest delayed effect of radiation exposure seen among A-bomb survivors. “I told him there was no way that would happen.”
Ikeda’s work at the plant was as varied as it was hazardous. At one point he helped construct a facility to dispose of workers’ TyVek suits, the ubiquitous white hooded jumpsuits that after exposure to radiation were discarded onto mountainous piles inside the plant’s evacuation zone.
Later he was involved in the construction of a temporary elevator at shattered reactor 3 and a 50-meter-tall heavy-duty steel structure to surround reactor 4 and support a huge overhead crane that was needed to remove the smoldering fuel assemblies in the fuel pool. These had been exposed to the elements following an explosion that blew away the reactor roof and the original crane.
“I was shocked when I first got there and saw the sheer volume of abandoned equipment and vehicles — including fire department and military trucks that had become irreversibly contaminated.”
He was also surprised by the makeup of the on-site workers — a curious mixture of day laborers and the homeless — not to mention the pitiful shortage of suitable clothing and masks to protect them from radiation, he says.
“Later, when a lot of fuss was made about radioactivity, that kind of gear and PDMs (pocket dosimeters, which monitor radiation) became more commonplace, but before that it was basically regular work clothes and surgical masks,” he says. “During work at reactor 4 the levels were so high we were supposed to wear lead vests, but there were not enough to go round so some of us had to do without.”
Nonetheless, the high radiation levels meant that work close to the reactors rarely lasted more than an hour per day and on occasion was terminated after just 10 minutes.
In late 2013, Ikeda returned home for rest and recuperation following a dispute with a subcontracting firm that was refusing to honor the daily ¥6,000 hazard allowance promised to workers — considerably less than the ¥19,000 pledged by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco) president Naomi Hirose a month earlier.
It was about this time that he started to feel unwell. He couldn’t shake off a dry cough and found himself tiring far more easily than usual. Twice he scraped the side of his car without even realizing it.
In early 2014 a local doctor diagnosed him with a cold, making the news of a far more life-threatening illness during a company-sanctioned periodic health check a week later all the harder to swallow.
Results from a subsequent spinal tap revealed that 80 percent of the white blood cells in his bone marrow were abnormal. The doctor told him if he had waited a couple more weeks, treatment would not have been an option.
Nevertheless, it was still touch and go, and fearing he might not have much longer to live, Ikeda ignored the doctor’s recommendation for immediate hospitalization, instead returning home to spend time with his children, who were then only 5, 7 and 9.
“It was only after I saw them through the glass of the cleanroom for the first time that I realized what a painful ordeal I had put them through,” says Ikeda. “I don’t regret going to Fukushima … but I do regret the distress I caused my family.”
Despite his father’s pre-Fukushima dispatch prophecy, Ikeda had yet to contemplate the possibility that his illness may be tied to the plant. The seed of that idea was planted by a surprising source — an official at Kajima Corp., a company he praises despite it being implicated in a kickback scandal that led some workers who had received little or no hazard compensation to take legal action.
For the time being, however, he felt fortunate and relieved. The health and labor ministry had recognized the illness as workplace-related, though it stopped short of stating it was directly tied to the 19.8 millisieverts of radioactivity he had been exposed to while working at nuclear plants.
Under health ministry guidelines, workers who are exposed to 5 mSv of radiation in a year can apply for compensation insurance payments. Ikeda did so successfully, meaning the government would help cover Ikeda’s medical costs and loss of income.
Shortly after, he was contacted by a friend still employed at the plant, who told him of a memo attached to a worker survey undertaken by plant operator Tepco.
“The memo told workers not to worry about the decision to recognize the connection between my leukemia and radiation — that it was bogus,” Ikeda recalls. “It was as though Tepco was trying to erase the recognition of my work-related illness, which by law was its responsibility.”
Until then Ikeda insists he had “no intention” of suing Tepco, but its attitude made him “feel sick to the bone.”
“I started to wonder what kind of people they are,” says Ikeda, who since his transfusions has suffered various ailments linked to the peripheral blood stem cell transplant he received for his acute myeloid leukemia (AML). “This is a company that for months denied the reactor meltdowns, and that caused the explosions by refusing to inject seawater (to cool the reactors) on the grounds it would render the reactors unusable. Then they turn a blind eye to a worker who helped clean up their mess. To them I was just another expendable laborer.”
Heavy price: Masaru Ikeda looks through his bag of copious prescription medication.
Incensed, Ikeda started legal proceedings against Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc., accusing the now-nationalized utility of failing to take adequate precautions against radiation exposure. His first hearing, where he filed for ¥59 million damages against both Tepco and Kyushu Electric Power Co., at whose Genkai plant he had also worked, commenced at the Tokyo District Court on Feb. 2.
A Tepco spokesperson denied the claims, saying the utility has endeavored “to manage all radiation exposure of workers,” adding there has been “no medical connection found (between radiation exposure and leukemia) … even from third-party or any other medical experts.”
A health ministry official stopped short of corroborating that view, saying it had awarded Ikeda compensation even though the “causal link between his exposure to radiation and his illness is unclear.”
Researchers worldwide are divided about the relation between radiation and leukemia and, indeed, some other cancers. Imperial College London cancer expert Geraldine Thomas, who is openly pro-nuclear, says there is in fact a connection, though leukemia and other cancers can also result from several factors.
“AML … does have an association with radiation exposure. However, it also has an association with smoking, exposure to benzene (one of the contaminants in cigarette smoke), etc.,” says Thomas, who runs the Chernobyl Tissue Bank, which analyzes samples of tissue from people exposed to radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. “The problem with … these cases is that it is easy to blame radiation exposure, but almost impossible to prove or disprove, as there are no biomarkers that can be used to distinguish between different etiologies.”
The total dose Ikeda received was “very low,” Thomas adds, leading her to suspect that exposure to cigarette smoke is more likely to be a higher risk factor. Ikeda says he only started smoking after a doctor had recommended it to counter the stress resulting from the sometimes debilitating side-effects of his treatment.
While scientists such as Thomas show caution in their assessment of low exposure doses, Hisako Sakiyama, a medical doctor and former senior researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences, is among those who insist that even lower doses can cause irreparable DNA damage known as “double strand breaks.” Such doses are therefore “capable of inducing cancer,” she says, “because the energy of radiation is stronger than that of the chemical bonds of DNA.”
Thomas counters that this alone is not enough to prove nuclear plants are the root of the problem because “double strand breaks are not uniquely caused by radiation.”
Ikeda’s lawyer, Yuichi Kaido, concedes that it’s scientifically problematic to prove his client’s leukemia is tied to radiation, even though Ikeda’s illness has been officially declared as being linked to his work.
“More importantly, he has been exposed to a level of radiation clearly exceeding the standard set by the government, and incidences of leukemia (among the general public) are extremely low,” he says, referring to the leukemia incidence rate in Japan of 6.3 per 100,000 people, or 1.4 percent of 805,236 cancers diagnosed in 2010. “In this case, I think it has been proven that the probable cause (radiation) is clearly far beyond the 51 percent probability normally required in these kinds of civil cases.”
To assess Ikeda’s case, painstaking investigations into his medical and employment background were undertaken. Ikeda himself said he had often noticed what he believes were public security officials in black vehicles who he alleges would park near his home and tail him wherever he went, presumably checking on his lifestyle habits and the types of people with whom he kept company.
The outcome of the official investigation was that no other factors, such as viruses or other illnesses, could have caused his leukemia, according to Kaido.
In his corner: Lawyer Yuichi Kaido is cautiously confident about Ikeda’s chances in court against Tepco. ‘It has been proven that the probable cause (radiation) is clearly far beyond the 51 percent probability normally required in these kinds of civil cases,’ he says.
Until now, there have been only two other known lawsuits like Ikeda’s. One of those — involving plumber Mitsuaki Nagao, who had been diagnosed with a type of bone marrow cancer after being exposed to 70 mSv of radiation at nuclear power plants including Fukushima No. 1 — was rejected by the Tokyo High Court in 2009, by which time Nagao had died. Kaido says that ruling could prove to be a “huge hindrance” in gaining justice for the likes of Ikeda.
“The big difference between then and now is the massive accident at Fukushima, where it is unthinkable that no health hazard resulted,” Kaido says, adding that in a wider social context, it is unconscionable that the utility that caused such environmental destruction and has since paid trillions of yen already in compensation to atone for the disaster, should fail to recompense a man who fell sick after helping Tepco overcome the dire situation at Fukushima No. 1.
“Some people in Fukushima who were unable to return to their homes (because of high radiation levels) were paid hundreds of billions of yen, while my client hasn’t received a penny. That’s preposterous. Tepco has washed its hands of its social responsibility.”
Although initially reluctant to take action, Ikeda hopes that his legal suit will encourage others to come forward, even though since 1976, when the compensation regulations were introduced, only 13 workers have been officially recognized as having suffered illnesses related to workplace radiation exposure. Ikeda became No. 14, and the first since the meltdowns in Fukushima (see table).
“I have heard that there are probably many more, but you never hear about them because settlements are reached” to keep them hushed up, says Ikeda, adding that accusations on various internet forums that people like him are nothing more than greedy opportunists had distressed him greatly. “I wouldn’t have taken this action if Tepco had shown some degree of remorse.”
Ikeda’s wife, Michiko, who works in an elderly care facility, says the most difficult time for her was during those long months of treatment, when her husband shed all his hair and over 20 kg in weight. He began to look pale and gaunt and didn’t have the energy to talk for more than five minutes when she visited, even though she remembers him chatting at length with a fellow cancer patient in the cleanroom — a patient who died three days later.
She also remembers the various memory-making trips, to Hokkaido and Okinawa, among others — trips they hoped would remain with their children throughout their lives. Just in case.
“Nobody can say when (the leukemia) will return, and while I worry about that, there’s nothing I can do,” she says. “That’s fate. I still can’t help wishing he had never gone (to Fukushima), but also feel bitter that Tepco didn’t try to prevent this from happening.”
The family asked that their real names and location not be used. This article is based on a chapter from Rob Gilhooly’s book “Yoshida’s Dilemma: One Man’s Struggle to Avert Nuclear Catastrophe: Fukushima — March 2011,” published last month by Inknbeans Press (www.yoshidas-dilemma.com).
Nuclear plant workers’ illnesses officially recognized by the health ministry as being workplace-related (between 1976 and June 2014 — a total of 13 workers):
(recognized limit: over 5 millisieverts/year)
Accumulated doses (mSv) of workers in six cases:
(recognized limit: over 25 mSv)
(recognized limit: over 50 mSv)
TEPCO to reshuffle top managers
Some big changes are in store for the boardroom of the company that operates the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. A planned reshuffle at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings is aimed at speeding up work at the crippled plant and moving ahead with business reforms.
The government owns a majority of the shares in TEPCO Holdings, giving it effective control. The company faces a decades-long task of decommissioning the melted down reactors and paying compensation.
Sources say government officials are now putting the finishing touches on a plan to replace Chairman Fumio Sudo. Taking his place will be Takashi Kawamura, chairman emeritus of electronics-maker Hitachi.
TEPCO Holdings President Naomi Hirose will become vice chairman and he’s going to focus on efforts to help revitalize Fukushima Prefecture.
Tomoaki Kobayakawa, who heads the group’s retail unit, will be taking over his job.
TEPCO plans to hold a board meeting as early as Friday to formally approve the new lineup.
State taps director Kobayakawa to become Tepco’s next president
The government plans to appoint Tomoaki Kobayakawa, a director on the board of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc., as president of the nationalized utility, it was learned Sunday.
Kobayakawa, 53, is president of Tepco Energy Partner Inc., a retail subsidiary.
The government plans to have Tepco President Naomi Hirose, 64, step aside to take the post of vice chairman so he can concentrate on decommissioning the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and compensating the people and businesses affected by the March 2011 triple core meltdown, informed sources said.
To replace Tepco Chairman Fumio Sudo, 76, the government has already asked Takashi Kawamura, 77, honorary chairman of Hitachi Ltd.
Tepco plans to adopt the appointments this month. The new management team is expected to be launched after a shareholders meeting in June.
Tepco is expected to invite Shoei Utsuda, 74, who advises trading house Mitsui & Co., and Kazuhiko Toyama, 56-year-old chief executive officer of Industrial Growth Platform Inc., as outside board members.
By revamping Tepco’s top management, the government hopes to speed up its reform mainly through operational realignment that may involve other companies. This is aimed at improving its competitiveness and raising funds to finance the enormous costs of dealing with the man-made nuclear accident triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, according to the sources.
The leaders of Tepco’s subsidiaries are also expected to be replaced.
With Kobayakawa at the helm, the holding company plans to rejuvenate its management team and promote rehabilitation under the leadership of Kawamura, who engineered the drastic recovery of Hitachi’s earnings.
The new Tepco team will face the challenge of balancing work to address the consequences of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl and boosting its earnings capacity.
Tepco plans to draw up soon a new business reconstruction program calling for, among other steps, the integration of its electricity transmission and nuclear businesses with other companies.
Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. will delay a decision on whether to seek an end to its state control by about two years to fiscal 2019 amid ballooning costs stemming from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, an outline of its new business plan showed Wednesday.
The move is another sign the utility is struggling to revive its business even after receiving a capital injection of 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) from the government in 2012 to bolster its financial standing. But disaster cleanup costs have continued to rise, with the latest estimate reaching 22 trillion yen.
Under its latest business turnaround plan, which will be the third major revision since the first one was formulated in 2011, TEPCO aims to realign or integrate its nuclear and power transmission and distribution businesses with other utilities to improve its profitability. But it is uncertain whether business will get back on track as planned, with other utilities cautious about such tie-ups.
The call for partners follows two robotic failures during cleanup efforts at the plant last month
TOKYO—The Tokyo Electric Power Co. has issued a call for partners to help it decontaminate and decommission the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.
The nuclear power plant was seriously damaged in 2011 by a tsunami triggered by a powerful offshore earthquake. The subsequent reactor meltdowns led to the release of radioactive material, which remains at high levels inside the plant six years after the accident.
The call for international collaboration follows two robotic failures inside Fukushima’s Unit 2 reactor last month. One cleaning robot was pulled out of the plant prematurely due to higher-than-expected radiation, while another had to be abandoned inside after its crawling function failed.
Earlier this month, Naohiro Masuda, the head of decommissioning at the plant said engineers will need to think ‘out of the box’ to develop robots capable of surveilling the plant.
TEPCO said it is particularly interested in consultants with on-site recycling methods that could reduce the amount of radioactive waste being generated—though it noted there are many other areas of expertise it’s interested in as well.
More details about the collaboration program are available here.
TEPCO is looking for partners that would realize innovative values and solutions to critical social issues.
Through challenging ourselves with new technology, dealing with various businesses, and making even greater use of the big data stored and created by TEPCO, we contribute to society’s development by creating new value for the lives and businesses of consumers and business people.
Co-creation will open new doors.
By partnering with you, we will be able to tackle issues we could not before. It is our mission to create better future by openly cooperating with everyone as we move forward.
What company in their right mind would want to hook up with a zombie company so they could leech 21.5 trillion yen from them?
Tokyo, March 22 (Jiji Press)–Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. on Wednesday released an outline of its new rehabilitation plan focusing on joint ventures with other companies, to find a way out of the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in March 2011.
But with other power companies cautious about industry realignment and business integration, TEPCO is expected to continue to face difficulties under the new plan.
TEPCO’s current rehabilitation plan, adopted in January 2014, has reached a dead end, with no prospects for a restart of its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, which the company viewed as a key step for improving profitability.
TEPCO needs to secure as much as 21.5 trillion yen for its response to the triple meltdown at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station, including compensation for affected people and businesses and work to decommission the disaster-stricken reactors at the plant.
In the circumstances, the government plans to keep the company effectively under state control for the time being. Its involvement with TEPCO will be reviewed in the fiscal year that begins in April 2019.
People pray for victims of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami near Tokyo Electric Power Co’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
Japan govt & Tokyo power firm liable for ‘preventable’ Fukushima meltdown – court
Negligence by the government and Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) contributed to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011, a court in Japan has ruled, saying the catastrophe could have been avoided, and marking the first time the state has been held liable.
The district court in Maebashi, north of Tokyo, said the government and plant operator were to blame for failing to prepare anti-tsunami measures.
The judge awarded a total of 38.55 million yen (US$340,000) in damages to some 62 plaintiffs who evacuated to Gunma Prefecture after the disaster began to loom large at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in March 2011, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported.
A group of 137 plaintiffs had argued the authorities and TEPCO failed to prevent the triple meltdown at the plant, and demanded 11 million yen ($97,108) each in compensation, the newspaper said, adding that the court accepted most of the arguments about the dramatic lack of anti-tsunami measures.
The plaintiffs highlighted the fact that in May 2008, three years before the disaster, plant operator TEPCO received an estimate of a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters that could hit the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Asahi Shimbun reported. That apocalyptic forecast came true, with a wave around that height hitting the nuclear power plant in 2011, triggering the reactor meltdowns. A huge tsunami knocked out the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, spewing radiation and forcing 160,000 people to flee their homes.
If the utility had installed emergency diesel electric generators on higher ground, the measure could have prevented the nuclear disaster, the court ruled on Friday.
Citing a government estimate released in July 2002, the court said that “TEPCO was capable of foreseeing several months after (the estimate) that a large tsunami posed a risk to the facility and could possibly flood its premises and damage safety equipment, such as the backup power generators,” the Japan Times reported.
Meanwhile, in its long-term estimate, unveiled in 2002, the government said that the probability of an earthquake striking in the Japan Trench off the coast of northeastern Japan, including the sea area off the Fukushima No. 1 plant, was “about 20 percent within 30 years,” the Asahi Shimbun paper said.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs welcomed the Friday court ruling, saying “It was extremely significant that (a court) has acknowledged the responsibility of the state,” Kyodo news agency reported.
Around 30 similar suits have been filed in at least 20 district courts across Japan, lawyers said.
However, Takehiro Matsuta, one of the plaintiffs who evacuated from the city of Koriyama in central Fukushima Prefecture, called the damages “disappointing.” His child, who was three years old at the time of the nuclear disaster, received no compensation whatsoever.
“My wife and I are struggling every day, but it’s my child who suffers the most,” the 38-year-old father said, as cited by the Japan Times.
“The ruling was one big step for my family, for those who evacuated from Fukushima to Gunma, and for tens of thousands of earthquake victims nationwide,” he said.
Both the government and TEPCO argued that the long-term estimate and the May 2008 tsunami study were not credible enough, continuing to insist that the massive tsunami was unexpected.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, told a press conference on Friday that the officials “will consider how to respond after carefully examining the ruling.”
The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered a blackout and subsequent failure of its cooling systems in March 2011, when it was hit by an earthquake and a killer tsunami that knocked out the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, spewing radiation and forcing 160,000 people to flee their homes. Three of the plant’s six reactors were hit by meltdowns, making the Fukushima nuclear disaster the worst since the Chernobyl catastrophe in 1986.
Supporters of plaintiffs seeking compensation for Fukushima evacuees unfurl banners in front of the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture announcing the court’s decision Friday.
In first, government and Tepco found liable for Fukushima disaster
Maebashi, Gunma Pref. – A court in Japan has ruled for the first time that the government and the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were responsible for failing to take preventive measures against the March 11, 2011, quake-triggered tsunami that killed scores and forced tens of thousands from their homes.
Friday’s stunning ruling by the Maebashi District Court was the first to recognize negligence by the state and Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. It called the massive tsunami predictable and said the major nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
The district court ordered the two to pay damages totaling ¥38.55 million to 62 of 137 plaintiffs from 45 households located near the plant, which suffered a triple meltdown caused by the tsunami, awarding ¥70,000 to ¥3.5 million in compensation to each plaintiff.
The plaintiffs had demanded the state and Tepco pay compensation of ¥11 million each — a total of about ¥1.5 billion — over the loss of local infrastructure and psychological stress they were subjected to after being forced to relocate to unfamiliar surroundings.
Citing a government estimate released in July 2002, the court said in the ruling that “Tepco was capable of foreseeing several months after (the estimate) that a large tsunami posed a risk to the facility and could possibly flood its premises and damage safety equipment, such as the backup power generators.”
It pointed out that the state should have ordered Tepco to take bolstered preventive measures, and criticized the utility for prioritizing costs over safety.
Of the plaintiffs, 76 who lived in evacuation zones were forced to move, while another 61 evacuated voluntarily even though their houses were located outside evacuation zones. The ruling was the first of 30 similar class-action suits filed nationwide involving more than 10,000 plaintiffs.
About 80,000 citizens who had lived in Fukushima reportedly left the prefecture after the March 2011 disaster.
“I believe that the ruling saying both the government and Tepco were equally responsible is an important judgment,” Katsuyoshi Suzuki, the lead lawyer for the defense said at a news conference following the ruling. “But thinking about the psychological distress (the plaintiffs faced) after being forced to evacuate from their homes, I think the amount is not enough.”
Takehiro Matsuta, 38, one of the plaintiffs who evacuated from the city of Koriyama, hailed the ruling, but called the damages “disappointing.”
“The ruling was one big step for my family, for those who evacuated from Fukushima to Gunma, and for tens of thousands of earthquake victims nationwide,” he said.
But called the payout “disappointing,” as his child, who was 3 years old at the time of the nuclear disaster, was not granted compensation. “My wife and I are struggling everyday, but it’s my child who suffers the most.”
The group of lawyers for the plaintiffs, which have had suits filed since September 2011, claimed that the Fukushima disaster resulted in serious human rights violations by forcing victims to relocate after the crisis caused widespread environmental damage.
The plaintiffs argued that Tepco could have prevented the damage if it had implemented measures, including the building of breakwaters, based on its 2008 tsunami trial calculation that showed waves of over 10 meters could hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Those calculations took into account the 2002 estimate by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, which concluded that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake rocking areas off Fukushima within 30 years.
However, the government and Tepco have argued that the massive tsunami was unexpected, claiming that there were different opinions among scholars over the long-term evaluation. Both attacked the credibility of the study, calling it unscientific.
The government also objected to the ruling, saying that because it had no authority to force Tepco to take such preventive measures as argued by the plaintiffs, it bore no responsibility.
According to the defense, a number of other class suits are inching closer to rulings, with one in the city of Chiba scheduled for Sept. 22 and another in the city of Fukushima involving 4,000 plaintiffs expected by the year’s end.
Court: State and TEPCO must compensate
A court in Japan has ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company to pay damages to evacuees of the 2011 nuclear accident.
The ruling is the first among similar suits filed across the country to order compensation.
137 evacuees mainly living in Gunma Prefecture northwest of Tokyo, filed the suit. They were seeking damages for emotional distress suffered after losing their livelihoods.
Court decision expected in Fukushima damages suit
A district court in eastern Japan will announce its decision Friday on a damages lawsuit filed by evacuees of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident against the state and Tokyo Electric Power Company.
137 people, mainly evacuees living in Gunma Prefecture, filed the suit with the Maebashi District Court, seeking compensation worth about 13 million dollars. The ruling will be the first damages suit of its kind in Japan.
The plaintiffs include those who fled evacuation zones and other parts of Fukushima Prefecture after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. They say they suffered emotional distress after losing their livelihoods. They are seeking about 97,000 dollars each.
The points of contention include whether the Japanese government and plant operator TEPCO could have foreseen the major tsunami and prevented the damage, as well as whether the compensation TEPCO is paying evacuees is appropriate.
The plaintiffs claim the tsunami was predictable, citing a 2002 prediction of a massive earthquake by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion.
But the government and TEPCO say many researchers voiced differing views, and an installation of tide embankments based on the prediction would not have prevented the damage.
The plaintiffs say the compensation they received is insufficient. The government and TEPCO say it is appropriate.
More than 12,000 people have filed similar suits in 18 prefectures.
The operator of the crippled nuclear complex in Fukushima Prefecture has only paid 6 percent of the compensation sought by municipalities in connection with the 2011 nuclear crisis, according to a recent prefectural tally.
The delay in payments to the 12 municipalities, designated by the government as evacuation zones, highlights the continuing challenge to their reconstruction efforts six years after the nuclear disaster, triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011.
The tally found that Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. had by the end of 2016 paid around 2.6 billion yen ($22.5 million) of the 43.3 billion yen demanded by the 12 local governments.
The lights of 750 housing units for Tokyo Electric Power Co. employees shine in the foreground in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, as the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant glimmers in the back.
OKUMA, Fukushima Prefecture–As Kazutoshi Mabuchi drove down a mountain road here in the darkness, carefully avoiding a wild boar crossing his path, a cluster of orange-lit housing units suddenly came into view under the night sky.
These dwellings accommodate about 750 employees of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which Okuma co-hosts.
“It looks like a casino that popped up in the desert out of nowhere,” said Mabuchi, 71, as he patrolled the town.
Mabuchi could see a cafeteria where some TEPCO employees were dining while watching TV.
All 11,000 residents of Okuma were forced to evacuate after the nuclear disaster unfolded at the plant, triggered by the magnitude-9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The town has been almost entirely empty since, with 96 percent of it designated as a “difficult-to-return zone” due to the high radiation levels. That means it is unknown if and when the evacuees will ever be able to return to their former homes to live. Barricades are put up on the roads as well as in front of the houses in the zone to prevent entry.
The TEPCO housing units are located in Okuma’s Ogawara district, which is excluded from the difficult-to-return zone. Classified as a restricted residence area due to relatively lower doses of radiation compared with most parts of the town, evacuees can visit Ogawara freely, but they cannot stay overnight.
Mabuchi is from Ogawara, and he, like all the other 360 people in the district, is still evacuated.
He drives four and a half hours each week to Okuma from Chiba Prefecture, where he moved to live with his daughter’s family after the triple meltdown. He and two others work on a shift to patrol Okuma for three days, a task commissioned by the town government since the autumn of 2012.
Local officials hope to get the residence restriction designation for Osuma lifted by March 2019 by carrying out extensive decontamination operations there.
But it remains unclear whether evacuees will return even if the area’s radiation readings drop enough to allow it to be habitable again.
A survey by the town shows that only one in three former residents is willing to return. The damaged roofs of the houses in the district remain covered with plastic sheets. Rice paddies and fields are strewn with numerous traces of holes dug up by wild boars.
Construction of the TEPCO housing units in Ogawara began in October 2015. The government granted a permit to the utility as a special case, saying the company is the “essential party in leading the recovery and rebuilding efforts” in Fukushima Prefecture.
The 750 single-person units were all occupied by the end of 2016 after TEPCO workers began moving in to them last July.
The utility says in its literature that the company “expects its employees residing there to contribute to rebuilding the town and reassurance of the people.”
“In addition to our objective of grappling with the decommissioning process squarely, we wanted to make visible our determination to help the rebuilding of local communities,” said Yoshiyuki Ishizaki, head of the company’s Fukushima Revitalization Headquarters, about the housing project.
Many of the employees are shuttled by bus between the sprawling nuclear complex and their units, wearing the same uniform and eating the same food.
“It is like we are on a conveyer belt, and our houses are part of the plant,” said one of the employees living there, referring to the absence of signs of a normal life, such as children playing on the ground and parents hurrying back home from their workplace.
There were more than 10 TEPCO dorms along the coastal area of Fukushima Prefecture before the nuclear disaster, which struck 40 years after the plant’s first reactor went online.
Locals affectionately called the occupants of the dorms “Toden-san” (TEPCO-san) before the accident. TEPCO employees were active participants in local events, such as cleanup efforts on holidays, sports meets and festivals, to fit in with their host communities.
With the nuclear accident, however, that community life completely disappeared.
“I am not going to return to Ogawara to live,” Mabuchi said while taking a break from the patrol.
He had his house razed in January. But he has carried on with the patrol for his neighbors’ sake.
“I am hoping that the town will continue to exist just for the people who want to go back home,” he said.
As the sky clouded over, the only lights visible in the dark came from the lights in the TEPCO lodgings.
“This is no longer Ogawara,” he said, and slid into his car.
Two Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) affiliates received Fukushima gubernatorial approval for tax breaks designed to help local businesses affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, it has been learned.
The firms applied for the local tax exemptions with the Fukushima Prefectural Government. Under the disaster relief tax break system, the amounts exempted are covered by the reconstruction budget. However, in the case of the TEPCO affiliates, it means reconstruction funds will flow to firms associated with the very company that caused the nuclear disaster.
“It is wrong to give them (the TEPCO affiliates) preferential treatment from the standpoint of public sentiment,” one critic said.
The two companies are Kandenko Co., an engineering and construction company based in Tokyo’s Minato Ward, and Chuo Ward-based Tokyo Energy & Systems Inc., which does maintenance and other work. Both firms have been engaged in projects to decommission the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
As of March 2016, TEPCO was the biggest shareholder in both firms, with a 46 percent stake in Kandenko and a 24 percent stake in Tokyo Energy & Systems. Six of Kandenko’s board members are from TEPCO, while five TEPCO officials were transferred to Tokyo Energy & Systems to become board members. Furthermore, one executive doubles as a board member at both TEPCO and Tokyo Energy & Systems.
The tax-exempt system is based on the Act on Special Measures for the Reconstruction and Revitalization of Fukushima enacted in the wake of the nuclear disaster. The law covers corporations and sole proprietors that had business offices in areas subject to the post-meltdown evacuation orders. Because a small number of local residents are expected to return to their hometowns near the nuclear plant, the system is aimed at attracting people to these municipalities by promoting business activity, including decommissioning work, and securing jobs for them.
Kandenko and Tokyo Energy & Systems both have offices in the region covered by the system. If they make fresh capital investments and apply with the Fukushima Prefectural Government for tax exemptions within five years from the time when evacuation orders were lifted, they will receive a partial corporate enterprise tax exemption, and a 100 percent real estate acquisition tax exemption. Both taxes are prefectural, and exempted amounts are covered by subsidies based on the special tax allocation system for disaster reconstruction funded by a dedicated tax, among other means.
According to a Fukushima Prefectural Government tax affairs department official, 436 corporations and individuals have received written approval for the program, 178 of which have been exempted from paying prefectural taxes totaling 345 million yen. The tax affairs department admitted to issuing approvals to the two TEPCO affiliates, adding, “If applications meet conditions, even TEPCO affiliates are not excluded from access to the system.”
A Kandenko spokesperson told the Mainichi Shimbun, “We went through confirmation procedures in line with the intent of the act on special measures. As of this moment, we have received no exemption.” Tokyo Energy & Systems built a branch office in an evacuation zone in 2016. Asked whether the company has been granted tax exemptions, a spokesperson said, “We will refrain from replying.” A TEPCO spokesperson said, “We are not in a position to comment.”
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, center, is briefed by the chief of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in the No. 6 reactor building in February, while TEPCO President Naomi Hirose, right, looks on.
Recent revelations concerning Tokyo Electric Power Co. raised fundamental doubts about whether the utility has done sufficient soul-searching over the accident at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in 2011.
The revelations concern the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture, where the company is seeking to restart the No. 6 and No. 7 reactors as soon as possible. In one instance, a key facility has been found to be lacking an adequate level of earthquake resistance.
TEPCO’s latest blunders emerged during the final stages of the Nuclear Regulation Authority’s screening of the two reactors, based on stricter safety standards introduced after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
The NRA summoned TEPCO President Naomi Hirose. It should come as no surprise that the NRA’s chairman, Shunichi Tanaka, instructed Hirose to re-submit documents in the application for the restarts after ensuring their accuracy as a matter of his responsibility.
The new standards are nothing but the NRA’s minimum requirements for safe reactor operations.
Utilities have the primary responsibility for keeping track of the latest scientific knowledge and improving the safety of nuclear power plants.
A company that fails to pay appropriate attention to developments it finds inconvenient or cannot make swift decisions when faced with such a situation is not qualified to operate a nuclear reactor.
The NRA summoned Hirose over the earthquake resistance of a key building that is designed to serve as an on-site emergency response headquarters at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in the event of a severe accident.
TEPCO had said the building could withstand an earthquake with a maximum intensity of seven on the Japanese seismic scale. In the process of the NRA’s screening, however, the company acknowledged that it may not be able to withstand even half of the assumed strongest seismic shaking.
TEPCO said it learned about the inadequate level of earthquake resistance in 2014. The utility said the information was not shared within the company due to poor communications among different divisions. But that explanation should not be allowed to let it off the hook.
TEPCO also failed to disclose until recently other pieces of information about the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, such as the possibility that an earthquake could cause liquefaction of the ground under a seawall built to protect the plant from tsunami.
NRA officials have criticized TEPCO for its reluctance to disclose problems in a straightforward manner.
Local governments around the plant are similarly aghast.
Niigata Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who has been cautious about endorsing TEPCO’s plan to restart the reactors, has stated that he does not trust the utility.
TEPCO also appears to be losing the trust of Kashiwazaki Mayor Masahiro Sakurai, who had shown some understanding to the idea of restarts. He said anxiety about TEPCO’s nature has “heightened” due to the latest revelations, combined with the disclosure last year that the company tried to cover up the core meltdowns at the Fukushima plant.
“There is now the possibility that I may not give my consent” to the restarts, he said.
The 2007 Chuetsu offshore earthquake destroyed an administrative building at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant.
Learning lessons from the disaster, TEPCO started constructing base-isolated buildings designed to serve as on-site emergency response headquarters at its nuclear power plants.
During the 2011 nuclear disaster, such a building at the Fukushima No. 1 plant was used as the on-site command post.
But the NRA’s screenings of reactors operated by other utilities had revealed that there are cases where buildings constructed with base isolation technology do not meet the new safety standards.
Critics say TEPCO is not eager to incorporate new findings.
It has been repeatedly pointed out that TEPCO first needs to thoroughly reform its organization and corporate culture, among other aspects.
We feel compelled to state again that the company must confront its problems.
The Japanese government has decided to maintain control over the operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant for an extended period.
Officials made the decision due to rising costs from the recovery of the 2011 nuclear accident.
The government acquired a 50.1 percent stake in Tokyo Electric Power Company through a state-backed bailout fund after the accident. This put the utility under effective state control.
Under the current plan, the government was to gradually reduce its control after April by selling TEPCO stocks in phases, while monitoring the company’s management.
But the government estimates that it will cost a total of about 188 billion dollars to clean up the soil, pay compensation, and decommission reactors. That’s about twice as much as an earlier estimate.
The extension of state control over TEPCO means that the government has to give up the current plan to cover the clean-up cost of about 35 billion dollars by selling the utility’s shares.
The government is now considering listing a joint venture set up by TEPCO, and Chubu Electric Power Company, and selling its stocks. It is also looking into selling some shares of a TEPCO group company that operates a power transmission business.
The government intends to include these financial alternatives in the utility’s business plan which will be renewed for the first time in 3 years in spring.
Visitors look at the logo of Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) at the Energy Market Liberalisation Expo in Tokyo, Japan March 2, 2016
Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) submitted plans on Wednesday to sell a total of 70 billion yen ($612 million) of bonds, its first sale since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Tepco unit, Tepco Power Grid Inc, which is in charge of power transmission and distribution, said in a filing with the Kanto Local Finance Bureau it will sell a 30 billion yen three-year bond and a 40 billion yen five-year bond. The coupon will be set between March 3 and 17.
The sale will mark the return of the company to Japan’s corporate bond market, which it dominated before the 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, bringing Tepco to its knees.
The utility, once Asia’s largest, was essentially nationalized after Fukushima. It currently faces billions of dollars in costs to dismantle the crippled Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, decontaminate the area and compensate victims after the meltdown of three reactors.
Tepco, which has 650 billion yen worth of bonds maturing in the year ending March 2018, wants to restart regular bond issuance to ensure stable refinancing. It said the planned issue was to pay for “equipment, pay back debt and bond redemption.”
Investors, who were initially skeptical about the bond issuance plan, have become more comfortable with the utility’s outlook after the government last year provided more details on decommissioning and compensation costs.
Six firms have been hired to manage the sale: SMBC Nikko Securities, a unit of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group; Nomura Securities; Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities, a unit of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc; Mizuho Securities, a unit of Mizuho Financial Group Inc; Daiwa Securities; and Shinkin Securities, a unit of Shinkin Central Bank.
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