Friday, September 20, 2013
DJ: LDP Proposal Would Put Fukushima Water Containment In Government Hands
TOKYO--Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party is considering a plan that would formally exclude Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) from the task of containing contaminated water at the site of the March 2011 post-tsunami meltdown, giving the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant a chance at pulling out of its straitened financial situation.
LDP lawmaker Taku Yamamoto Friday proposed a draft bill at a meeting of party members to discuss resources and energy that would put the government in charge of all costs and operations related to handling contaminated water at Fukushima.
Tepco, as the utility is known, has to store an additional 400 metric tons a day--more than enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool each week--of contaminated water that is pumped out of reactor buildings, while a further 300 tons a day of lightly contaminated water flows unimpeded into the ocean. The company has come under criticism for problems in containing the water, with storage tanks that were hurriedly set up during plant emergencies having started springing leaks in April.
The government has already effectively nationalized Tepco by buying a supermajority of its shares, but the stock also still trades on the Tokyo bourse, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration is eager to see the company return to financial health, a major challenge given lost revenue from the idling of all of the company's nuclear reactors as well as costs associated with the meltdown and additional costs to purchase expensive liquefied natural gas to fuel thermal-power plants at full capacity to make up for lost nuclear generation.
Tepco has posted two straight years of deep net losses since the Fukushima accident. It swung back to profit in the April-June quarter, solely on the back of a large government subsidy to help it pay compensation to Fukushima victims.
The LDP proposal came a day after Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi, who oversees the power industry, said "there is no plan" for additional financial support for Tepco, though he did acknowledge the government was intervening "to help Tepco get on" with managing the contaminated water leaks.
Mr. Yamamoto also said he hoped to submit a related bill to the next Diet session, which starts in October, or in the next session, which starts in January.
Mr. Abe has said since late August that the government would take "an active role" in sorting out the water problem, but he hasn't spelled out details, such as who will pay for the work.
According to the proposal, Tepco would continue to handle decommissioning operations for Fukushima.
Tepco President Naomi Hirose said Thursday that the company would prepare Y1 trillion ($10 billion) to decommission the entire plant in addition to Y960 billion it had reserved for the work by the end of June. This doesn't include costs associated with handling contaminated water at the site.
There hasn't been any estimate on the total cost of decommissioning the stricken plant.
Dale Klein, former head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and currently an advisor for Tepco, said earlier this month that the Japanese government should separate the party dealing with Fukushima from Tepco so that the Fukushima decommissioning can be dealt with more effectively.
"I think that it's important to realize that the health and safety issues from these recent leaks was not a risk for the public, but it does demonstrate concern over Tepco's overall management capabilities," Mr. Klein told a news conference in Tokyo last week.
Japan's Nuclear Regulation Authority Chairman Shunichi Tanaka has urged the government and Tepco to intensify the decommissioning effort, saying "the deadliest risk is another huge natural disaster," which would "destroy all these makeshift tanks and water processing systems, releasing all the radioactive materials there into the environment."