Whether Tepco fails or not, it’s taxpayers’ tab — The Japan Times

” It is impossible to put a price tag on all the pain and suffering inflicted on people as a result of the March 2011 meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The ongoing crisis has created more than 140,000 wandering “nuclear refugees,” has stripped farmers and fishermen of their livelihoods, and continues to expose hundreds of plant workers to daily health risks as they battle to contain the radioactive water accumulating in leaky storage tanks and pipes and flowing into the ocean as groundwater, as well as other hazards.

The monetary cost alone is immeasurable because the crisis is far from over and the decontamination of areas hit by the radioactive fallout is way behind schedule. Just neutralizing the three reactors that suffered core meltdowns and the other reactor whose fuel pool looms as a major danger will take decades.

But one thing is clear: the final tab will be huge, and the public will end up paying for it, either through taxes or utility bills. While estimates vary, the total cost will probably top ¥10 trillion — or 20 percent of what the central government collects every year through taxes, experts say.

And last month’s pledge by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before the International Olympic Committee in Buenos Aires that the government will take the lead in bringing the crisis to an end, somewhat, in time for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics could mean additional financial burdens placed on taxpayers.

This has led to mounting calls in recent weeks, from academics and lawmakers, and even within the ruling, pro-nuclear Liberal Democratic Party, that the government should force Tepco into bankruptcy. Doing so, they say, is also the only way for top management, as well as creditors and shareholders, to shoulder some of the blame for the fiasco at the inadequately defended coastal complex.

Others in the ruling party, meanwhile, propose splitting the utility into two parts, separating the profit-making power generation business from the unprofitable crisis-containment.

Tepco, which posted a ¥326.9 billion net loss in fiscal 2012, has stayed alive under a state-backedbailout scheme. Through the Nuclear Damage Liability Fund, set up in September 2011, the firm has secured ¥5 trillion in public funds and is under effective government control amid enormous damages claims. As of June, the utility planned to pay an estimated ¥3.9 trillion in compensation, according to papers submitted by the fund and the utility to the government that month.

In addition to compensating victims of the disaster, the nation’s biggest utility also bears the main onus of containing the radioactive water used to cool the damaged reactors, as well as the technologically daunting task of scrapping the stricken plant. … ”

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