Six years after Fukushima, public still hostile to nuclear

13 March 2017

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) has only paid 6% of the compensation sought by municipalities in connection with the 2011 Fukushima accident, Kyodo news agency reported on 11 March – the six-year anniversary of the disaster. 

A recent prefectural tally found that Tepco had by the end of 2016 paid around JPY2.6bn ($22.5m) of the JPY43.3bn demanded by the 12 local governments designated by the government as evacuation zones. “As some municipalities have been forced to shoulder most of the costs for Tepco, local residents have raised concerns that the situation could delay reconstruction,” Kyodo noted.

Tepco has prioritised compensation to individuals and companies, saying that as of 3 March, it had paid some JPY7000bn in connection with around 2,549,000 cases, about 93% of the total number. However, the town of Futaba, where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is sited, and where all residents remain evacuated, has received no compensation despite a demand for around JPY19.3bn. The town of Namie, where part of its evacuation order will be lifted at the end of March, has received around JPY460m, just 4% of the amount needed.

Tepco has primarily paid compensation to municipalities to cover personnel costs for dealing with the disaster and relocation costs for local government offices, as well as to supplement tax revenues. Towns that prioritised payments for such purposes have received more compensation than others. Kawamata and Tomioka, for example, have been paid about 53% and 45% of the amounts requested. The payment delays are raising wider concerns about reconstruction efforts, according to Futoshi Hirono, a community leader in Kawamata.

As of 13 February, 123,168 people remained displaced from Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima, the three hardest-hit prefectures. Initially, 470,000 people fled in the wake of the disasters. With the decommissioning of Fukushima Daiichi complex expected to take up to 40 years, 39,598 former residents still remain outside the prefecture. At a government-sponsored memorial service in the National Theatre in Tokyo on 11 March, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said   reconstruction in the affected regions had “reached a new stage”, promising that the government will exert its united efforts to build a strong and resilient nation that is resistant to disasters”. 

But many are not convinced. In a 11 March article published in the journal, Conversation, Tatsujiro Suzuki, Professor and Director of the Research Centre for Nuclear Weapons Abolition at Nagasaki University suggested that Japan had lost faith in nuclear power. He noted that decommissioning the damaged Fukushima NPP poses unprecedented technical challenges and that, of more than 100,000 people who were evacuated, only about 13% have returned, although the government has now declared many zones safe. The latest government estimate of total costs from the nuclear accident is JPY22,000bn, twice the previous figure, and “the government is developing a plan under which consumers and citizens will bear some of those costs through higher electric rates, taxes or both”. He said: “The Japanese public has lost faith in nuclear safety regulation, and a majority favours phasing out nuclear power. However, Japan's current energy policy assumes nuclear power will play a role. To move forward, Japan needs to find a new way of making decisions about its energy future.”

Of Japan’s 45 commercial reactors, only three are now operating – units 1 and 2 at Kyushu Electric’s Sendai NPP in Kagoshima Prefecture, and unit 3 at Shikoku Electric Power Co’s Ikata plant in Ehime Prefecture. On 8 March, Hideo Kishimoto mayor of the town of Genkai in Saga Prefecture agreed to the restart of units 3 and 4 at Kyushu’s Genkai NPP. The Genkai town assembly voted in favour of the restart in February after the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) confirmed the units were compatible with new regulatory standards. However, the final decision will depend on the governor of Saga Prefecture Yoshinori Yamaguchi, who will make a judgment after hearing from all mayors in the prefecture at a meeting later in March.

On the anniversary of the Fukushima accident, Tepco president Naomi Hirose outlined the decommissioning progress that has been achieved at the site so far.

“During these six years,” President Hirose said, “we have progressed from emergency stabilization of the site to progress in long-term decommissioning.” As examples, he noted the reduction of radiation at the site, improvement in working conditions, advances in water treatment and management, and the recent information obtained from the inside of the Unit 2 reactor.
 “These advances were made possible by the hard work and dedication of thousands of people, whether at the site, or developing robot technology, or in laboratories, or elsewhere,” he said.


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