Law on nuclear disaster compensation is enacted

Kyodo

Legislation designed to facilitate compensation to people and businesses affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster was enacted in the Diet on Wednesday.

A new entity tasked with securing funds for compensation, a key component of the government-led redress program, will be set up by the end of this month at the earliest to begin disbursing sums of money to recipients over the country’s worst nuclear power accident.

The measure was approved in the Upper House with the support of legislators across party lines, including members of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, a smaller opposition party.

The enactment has put the spotlight on industry minister Banri Kaieda, who indicated early last month he will resign from the Cabinet post at some point to take responsibility for the stalled restart of nuclear reactors operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co. Passage of the bill is seen as one of the conditions for Kaieda to resign.

The new framework has been designed to help Tokyo Electric Power Co. provide compensation to people and businesses in difficulty without going out of business amid the crisis at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The new entity will provide financial assistance to Tepco only after the minister in charge approves a compensation fund program drawn up by the utility and the entity. But this approval is premised on thorough restructuring and cost-cutting efforts on the part of the utility.

Under the framework, Tepco and other utilities with nuclear reactors will pay their share to the new entity annually, while the government would issue interest-free bonds to raise the necessary funds.

While details of the share that each utility will shoulder have yet to be worked out, some of the expected cost increase may eventually come from higher bills for electricity users.

A resolution was attached to the legislation saying that another law on nuclear accident compensation that specifies unlimited liability for atomic power operators will be reviewed in roughly a year.

Measures should be taken in roughly two years to minimize the financial burden on the public under the new law by reviewing the extent to which Tokyo Electric shareholders and the utility’s lenders should be involved.

Radioactive debris bill

The government would take charge of clearing radioactive debris and soil under legislation being prepared by the Democratic Party of Japan-led ruling bloc, officials said.

The legislation would compel the government to monitor radioactive substances in the environment and in designated areas and dispose of wreckage contaminated with radioactive material exceeding the safety limit.

The government would also designate areas to be investigated for possible decontamination, which if necessary would be undertaken by municipalities.

Current law is not designed to deal with a massive leak of radioactive material in the general environment, making it necessary to write new legislation to deal with the Fukushima crisis.

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito are planning to announce outlines of their own bills to cope with the massive task of cleaning up areas contaminated by the Fukushima No. 1 plant.

Lawmakers are expected to submit a bill to the Diet as early as this month after discussions between ruling bloc and opposition lawmakers. Opinions and proposals will be invited from municipalities as well.

According to the draft by the government and the DPJ, operators of sewage and garbage disposal facilities would be required to monitor contamination of sludge and incinerator ash and report it to the government.

It also calls on municipalities in areas exposed to radiation from the Fukushima complex to check soil contamination and produce cleanup plans.

Election delay now legal

Local elections in areas hard-hit by the March earthquake and tsunami can be postponed until the end of the year under a law enacted Wednesday.

The Upper House, controlled by the opposition camp, unanimously passed the relevant bill into law to postpone the deadline of Sept. 22 for the elections already delayed from April.

The deferment was requested by the election boards in Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, where many people are still affected by the tsunami damage and the subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

The new deadline of Dec. 31 is expected to be applied to some mayoral and assembly elections in the two prefectures.