Abe gets blessing to use public funds for recovery

Kyodo

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed Monday to accelerate Fukushima’s recovery from one of the world’s worst nuclear crises as he received a ruling bloc proposal for greater government involvement and use of taxpayer money to this end.

The government is thus expected to spend more public funds to cover the cleanup of radiation-contaminated areas outside the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex — costs that Tokyo Electric Power Co. otherwise would have had to shoulder.

To carry out the unprecedented task of scrapping reactors that suffered meltdowns, the proposal also touches on the need for the giant utility to have “a clearer organizational structure,” including a new in-house company to take charge of decommissioning operations.

After receiving the proposal from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition ally New Komeito, Abe said, “The government will work together with the ruling parties on the plant’s decommissioning and radioactive water management.”

He also said the government should present “criteria” for people affected by the crisis to help them decide how to put their lives back in order.

The recovery of areas affected by the nuclear calamity has been sluggish compared with other areas hit by the huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Following the massive radiation leaks, more than 140,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture are still living as evacuees and a research institution estimates the cost of decontaminating areas in the prefecture could reach more than ¥5 trillion.

The LDP and New Komeito said in the proposal that the government may need to address decontamination needs linked to infrastructure restoration that could emerge after the current cleanup plans are implemented.

The government should also secure funds to build interim storage facilities to keep radioactive soil and other waste created in the decontamination efforts, they said.

As for areas designated as “difficult to return to” for at least six years because of the radiation dangers, the government should make clear if, or how long it will take before, people can return, and enhance support for evacuees who abandon their homes and need to start new lives, the proposal says.

The importance of decommissioning the Fukushima plant and managing the massive and ever-increasing amount of radioactive water there was also highlighted in the proposal as a “basic premise” for achieving the recovery of Fukushima.

But the document says Tepco alone cannot handle the daunting tasks. The government should reinforce its command by reorganizing some of its panels in charge, while Tepco should have a clearer organizational structure to take charge of the Fukushima operation, it says.

While some politicians maintain that the ailing utility should be allowed to go bankrupt, an LDP lawmaker said the document stipulates that the utility, already effectively under state control, should “hold on and work hard.”

Last year, Tepco received a ¥1 trillion capital injection from a state-backed bailout fund to bolster its financial standing. The Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund has also provided over ¥3 trillion for compensation purposes, which Tepco is required to eventually repay.