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Futaba mayor dissolves assembly, fukushima minpo, 12/27/12

Katsutaka Idogawa, mayor of the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, said on Dec. 26 that he has dissolved the town assembly after it passed a no-confidence motion against him.

Idogawa notified assembly chairman Seiichi Sasaki of the dissolution. Under the public offices election law, an election will be held within 40 days of the day following the notification. The town election board is seeking to arrange voting on Feb. 3.

The assembly unanimously passed a no-confidence motion against Idogawa on Dec. 20, citing his absence from a meeting in November about a plan to set up temporary storage facilities for soil contaminated with radioactive substances released from the disaster-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The assembly passed the no-confidence motion in a session held in the city of Kazo, Saitama Prefecture, to which the Futaba municipal government relocated its office following the outbreak of the nuclear disaster in March 2011.

Idogawa was absent from the Nov. 28 meeting of prefectural government officials and mayors of municipalities in Futaba county held to discuss the central government’s proposal to set up temporary storage facilities for radiation-contaminated soil.

Cabinet approves new approach to rebuilding Fukushima, asahi, 12/21/2013

The Abe Cabinet approved guidelines that take a more realistic approach to rebuilding Fukushima Prefecture after the 2011 nuclear accident, including abandoning the goal of having all evacuees return to their homes.

But the plan, approved on Dec. 20, could raise criticism because taxpayers will bear the brunt of the burden.

Under the plan, the central government will provide additional compensation to evacuees to buy land and homes where they now reside. Compensation for psychological distress will also be paid to evacuees who are uncertain if they can ever return home.

The new approach will likely increase the number of evacuees who give up hope of returning home, leading to population decreases that could affect local governments. Central government officials plan to consult with local government officials about the future status of those municipalities.

At the same time, the central government is also considering providing an additional 900,000 yen ($8,600) in compensation to each evacuee who decides early on to return home.

The guidelines will also revise the method used to determine how much radiation the returnees are exposed to. Until now, estimates of radiation exposure were calculated based on airborne levels. In the future, returnees will be given dosimeters to measure their individual radiation doses.

This change is expected to relax the standards for deciding on what areas need decontamination from radiation.

While the new guidelines will maintain the long-term goal of annual radiation levels of 1 millisievert or less as the cutoff point for decontamination, the individual radiation level readings are expected to come out lower than the airborne readings.

That would in effect weaken the standard at which decontamination is required and would lead to reduced clean-up expenses.

Reflecting the huge task involved in rebuilding Fukushima communities, the new guidelines do not provide a timetable of when evacuees can return to specific municipalities nor does it include a road map to create an environment to allow evacuees to return home.

Some mayors have already voiced criticism that the new guidelines do not provide a vision for the future of Fukushima, raising doubt that the guidelines will in fact accelerate the rebuilding process.

The central government will also provide additional loans to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, because of the ballooning costs for dealing with the accident. The central government now estimates that at least 11 trillion yen will be needed.

Under the law, TEPCO is supposed to bear the entire burden, but the central government decided to pay for the construction of interim storage facilities for contaminated soil. The central government will also raise the upper limit for interest-free loans to TEPCO from 5 trillion yen to 9 trillion yen.

By providing additional funds to TEPCO, the central government is also bound to face criticism for essentially putting the financial burden on taxpayers.

However, Toshimitsu Motegi, the industry minister, explained the need for government involvement.

“Measures have been delayed because everything was forced on TEPCO,” he said at a Dec. 20 news conference. “We will accelerate rebuilding in Fukushima by clearly delineating the roles to be played by the central government and TEPCO.”

HEAVIER BURDEN ON TAXPAYERS

Of the 11 trillion yen needed to deal with the nuclear accident, about 2.5 trillion yen will go to decontamination, about 1.1 trillion yen will be used for construction and management of interim storage facilities and about 5.4 trillion yen will be required for compensation.

In addition, at least 2 trillion yen more would be needed for decommissioning the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 plant and to deal with radiation-contaminated water there.

While TEPCO and the electric power industry will have to repay the loans from the government used for compensation and decontamination work, most of the money will likely come in the form of higher electricity rates.

The cost for constructing interim storage facilities will also be repaid over 30 years in the form of a tax that is already included in electricity rates. About 35 billion yen is expected to be paid from that tax in the next fiscal year. Any additional costs for decontamination will be directly covered by taxpayer money.

There are also plans to reduce the burden on taxpayers. One is to have the government-backed Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund sell off the TEPCO shares it possesses and use the gains to pay for decontamination work. If TEPCO share prices rise due to improved corporate performances, the burden on taxpayers would be reduced.

But some within the utility doubt that the share prices will increase over time.

Since it was pointed out from the very beginning that there would be limits to what TEPCO could shoulder, having the central government bear some of that burden can be considered a move in a more realistic direction.

Still, little debate was conducted during the Upper House election in the summer over the government providing assistance to TEPCO.

Normally, when companies undertake rehabilitation after racking up huge debts, shareholders and financial institutions that provided the loans would be asked to absorb some of the losses.

However, since the central government has provided 1 trillion yen in capital to TEPCO and because of concerns about the effect on paying compensation, bankruptcy proceedings were never an option with TEPCO.

That means taxpayers’ wallets will take a hit while shareholders are left free of bearing any responsibility for the mess that TEPCO is now in.

(This article was compiled from reports by Daisuke Fukuma, Noriyoshi Ohtsuki, Mari Fujisaki and Takashi Ebuchi.)

Minami-Soma OKs rice planting for 1st time in 4 years, asahi, 12/14/13

MINAMI-SOMA, Fukushima Prefecture–The rice fields have lain fallow in this northern coastal city since tsunami deluged the area in 2011. But now, for the first time since then, farmers will start planting rice for harvest on about 3,200 hectares of paddies.

A general meeting of a council consisting of city officials and an agricultural association decided Dec. 13 to allow farmers to plant anew.

The farmers voluntarily refrained from growing rice after the onset of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Although the paddies to be replanted are located outside the evacuation zone, the central government continues to prohibit the cultivation of rice on about 5,300 hectares of the fields within the evacuation zone. It is expected to decide on an extent of the restriction for 2014 in January at the earliest.

Farmers planted rice on about 123 hectares of paddies in Minami-Soma on an experimental basis earlier this year.

But partly due to a delay in decontamination work at the paddies, radioactive cesium exceeding the government’s safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram was detected in some of the crops from those fields.

At the Dec. 13 meeting, one farmer said that they should wait until safety is confirmed before going ahead with replanting.

“(The council) should hold a thorough investigation to determine why radioactive cesium is exceeding the safety limit,” the farmer said.

However, with the city pledging to fully support the restart of rice growing, the Dec. 13 meeting decided on the resumption of rice planting by majority vote.

70% of Fukushima evacuees: won’t return home, NHK, 12/6/13

Japan’s Reconstruction Agency has found that nearly 70 percent of people who evacuated from towns hosting the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant do not plan to return.

The agency surveyed evacuees from Okuma and Futaba towns in October. All residents of the towns left after the plant’s nuclear accident.

Of around 2,760 households from Okuma, 67 percent said they’ve given up on returning. Nine percent said they want to. 20 percent were undecided.

Among 1,730 households from Futaba, 65 percent said they won’t return, 10 percent said they hope to, and 17 percent were undecided.

Of the respondents from both towns who said they will not return, around 70 percent cited concerns about the safety of the damaged plant and radiation exposure.

About 65 percent said it will take too long before they are allowed to go back.

Reconstruction minister Takumi Nemoto told reporters that his agency will consult the towns to draw up plans to build public housing for evacuees and implement reconstruction projects.

278,000 evacuees remain nearly 1,000 days after March 2011 disaster, mainichi 12/5/14

TOKYO (Kyodo) — As many as 278,000 people remained evacuees Nov. 14 as a result of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, the Reconstruction Agency said Wednesday, 1,000 days after the disaster.

The number marked a fall from a peak of about 470,000.

The evacuees include 49,554 who have left Fukushima Prefecture, where the disaster caused a serious nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the agency said.

The earthquake-tsunami disaster killed 15,883 people and left 2,651 others unaccounted for as of Nov. 8. Search for the missing still continues in the tsunami-hit coastal zones.

An additional 2,688 deaths, including those from evacuation-caused health deterioration and suicides, were related to the disaster by the end of March this year.

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