Money set aside to help victims of the 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear crisis has been allocated to power companies, government officials revealed, a move certain to fuel fury among those in Tohoku who lost loved ones, homes and livelihoods.
About ¥10 billion of the ¥25 trillion pledged for disaster recovery over several years has been reserved to offset costs for utilities that were ordered to shut nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima meltdowns in March 2011, the officials said Friday.
The news comes after it was revealed that public cash had been used in areas seemingly unaffected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, including to beef up security for the nation’s controversial whale hunt and to pay people to count turtles in Kagoshima Prefecture.
The officials said around ¥2 billion has already been transferred to Chubu Electric Power Co. to help it make interest payments on bank loans taken out to fund its spiralling fossil fuel costs for thermal power generation.
Power companies have had to ramp up their fuel imports to replace the generation capacity lost as all of their nuclear reactors were gradually idled. All but two of Japan’s reactors remain mothballed, awaiting the green light over new safety standards and in the face of public unease about a once-trusted electricity source.
Money also was used to provide heated water to local aquaculture facilities that previously were supplied with warm water from nuclear power stations, the officials said.
And in a town in Kagoshima Prefecture, around 1,300 km from the devastated coastal city of Ishinomaki in Miyagi Prefecture, ¥3 million was spent on the protection and observation of sea turtles. Ten people were employed to count the creatures as they came ashore and to remind sightseers not to interfere with them.
“The funds were meant to help utilities cope with higher operating costs when the government ordered them to suspend nuclear reactors,” a ministry official said, stressing that part of the monies should be returned to state coffers. “Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe has ordered a re-examination of how the disaster budget is used, including the fund for power firms.”
The remaining ¥8 billion allocated to power companies has not yet been disbursed.
While there is no suggestion of corruption, the admission is an embarrassment for the government and will likely compound the public’s impression that the nuclear industry is in cahoots with the state.
Earlier this month, the Asahi Shimbun reported it had surveyed local authorities around the country to find out what had happened to ¥200 billion the government set aside in 2011 for post-disaster job creation in the northeast. The report said ¥108.5 billion was spent in 38 prefectures outside of stricken Tohoku, and that 97 percent of the people employed with the help of these funds were not disaster evacuees.