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.)