Media reports de-romanticize the cleanup work on the Fukushima nuclear power plant — The Japan Times

” Most of the reliable reporting about the clean-up of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant since it suffered three meltdowns in March 2011 has been from on-site workers. Even when articles appear in major media outlets about the situation at the crippled reactor, it’s usually presented through the anonymous or pseudonymous firsthand experiences of the men on the front lines.

Some have become famous. The public would not know much about the situation without Kazuto Tatsuta’s manga series, “Ichiefu” (or “1F” — shorthand for “Fukushima No. 1”), the writings of former letter carrier and cleanup worker Minoru Ikeda, or the books and tweets of a man known as “Happy” who has been working as an employee at the plant.

Because these individuals directly address what they and their colleagues have gone through on a daily basis, the work they do has been de-romanticized. It’s not as heroic as initial foreign media reports made it out to be. If anything, it’s tedious and uncomplicated.

Workers are concerned about those matters that all blue-collar laborers worry about — pay and benefits — which isn’t to suggest they don’t think about the possible health risks of radiation exposure. Last October, Ikeda talked to the comedy duo-cum-nuclear power reporters Oshidori Mako & Ken on the web channel Jiyu-na Radio about potential false reports on radiation levels around Fukushima, although also touching on health issues that have not been reported by the mainstream media. His main point was that serious illnesses may not manifest themselves until years after workers quit the site and thus no longer qualify for worker’s compensation. In other words, the workers understand the risk. They just want to be fairly compensated for it.

In that regard, one of the most common gripes from on-site reporters is the “hazard compensation” (kiken teate) workers are supposed to receive. Recently, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (Tepco), which is both responsible for the accident and in charge of the cleanup, announced a reduction in outlay associated with the hazard compensation, which is paid as a supplement to wages. This compensation can add as much as ¥20,000 a day to a worker’s pay, but now that Tepco says radiation levels have dropped, they will no longer provide the compensation, or, at least, not as much as they have been paying.

A special report in the Jan. 22 Tokyo Shimbun attempted to explain how this change will affect workers and the work itself. In March 2016, Tepco divided the work area into three zones: red, for high radiation levels; yellow, for some radioactivity; and green, for areas that had no appreciable radioactivity. Workers interviewed by Tokyo Shimbun say they’ve never liked this system because they feel it “has no meaning.” Rubble from the red zone is routinely transferred to the green zone, where heavy machinery kicks up a lot of dust, so there’s no physical delineation between zones when it comes to radiation levels. On the ground, this reality is addressed by subcontractors who make their employees in the green zone — which constitutes 95 percent of the work site — wear extra protective gear, even though Tepco doesn’t require it.

But the workers’ main gripe about the zone system is that most of them ended up being paid less and, as on-site workers have often explained, they weren’t getting paid as much as people thought they were. Contractors advertise high wages to attract workers, but then subtract things like room and board, utility fees, clothing and equipment. And it’s been known for years that the hazard compensation was more or less a racket gamed by the contractors standing between Tepco, which distributes the compensation, and the workers, who are supposed to be the beneficiaries. There can be up to six layers of contractors between Tepco and a worker, and each layer may take a cut of the compensation. In 2014, four workers sued Tepco for ¥62 million, saying they worked at the site but received none of the promised hazard compensation.

That situation still seems to be in play, according to Tokyo Shimbun. Several subcontractors told the newspaper they receive the compensation for their workers not from Tepco directly but from the contractor that hired them, and in most cases the compensation has been reduced, sometimes by more than half. One subcontractor said that a company above them actually apologized for the paucity of the compensation they were handing down because their “revenues had decreased.” The man known as Happy told Tokyo Shimbun that Tepco is ordering less work at the site, which means existing subcontractors may cut wages in order to compete for these dwindling jobs. Some contractors have even invested in the robots that are used to inspect the reactor, because they want the work to continue without interruption.

It was common practice to rotate out workers toiling in the highly radioactive areas regularly and quickly and then re-assign them to low-radiation areas. After some time they may have been rotated back into the high-radiation area, where pay is more. The man known as Happy says this sort of system now seems to be on the way out, and that makes sense if radiation is actually decreasing. However, he’s afraid that if there is another emergency that requires a sudden influx of workers, they won’t be available.

Tepco is obviously thinking of its bottom line, and the man known as Happy thinks the work should be managed by the government, which is contributing tax money to the cleanup. However, it seems only the Japan Communist Party is reading the dispatches from the plant. Last May, Japanese Communist Party lawmaker Taku Yamazoe questioned Tepco President Naomi Hirose about the hazard compensation in the Diet, and why the structure of payments to workers wasn’t clear.

Hirose said that while his company intends that the money goes to workers, he cannot say for sure that is the case because of the circumstances surrounding Tepco’s relationships with contractors. With work on the wane, it seems unlikely that those workers will see any of the money that’s owed to them, retroactively or otherwise. ”

by Philip Brasor, The Japan Times

source with internal links

Advertisements

Fukushima disaster sways former advocate of nuclear power — Bloomberg

” The man blocking the world’s largest nuclear plant says he grew opposed to atomic energy the same way some people fall in love.

Previously an advocate for nuclear power in Japan, Ryuichi Yoneyama campaigned against the restart of the facility as part of his successful gubernatorial race last year in Niigata. He attributes his political U-turn to the “unresolved” 2011 Fukushima Dai-Ichi disaster and the lack of preparedness at the larger facility in his own prefecture, both owned by Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc.

“Changing my opinion wasn’t an instant realization,” Yoneyama said in an interview. “It was gradual. As people say, you don’t know the exact moment you’ve fallen in love.”

Yoneyama won’t support the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata until an investigation is complete into the chain of events that resulted in the triple meltdown at Fukushima, which he plans to visit Wednesday. While utilities don’t need approval of local authorities to restart plants, Japanese power companies are tradition-bound not to move ahead until they get their consent.

Local Opposition

Yoneyama, a 49-year-old doctor and native of Niigata, is one of the highest-profile local opponents pitted against a political establishment led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, which sees nuclear power as crucial for the country’s long-term energy security and environmental goals. Regulations and public opinion are keeping nearly all of Japan’s atomic stations shut almost six years after the accident at Fukushima, where the search has barely begun for fuel that burned through to the bottom of the reactors.

“If the local governor remains firmly opposed to the restart, it will be very difficult for the reactors to come back online,” said James Taverner, an analyst at IHS Markit Ltd. “In addition to the local government, building the support and trust of local residents is key.”

A Kyodo News poll on the day of Yoneyama’s October election showed about 64 percent of Niigata voters opposed the restart of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa, known popularly as KK. The restart of the facility was one of the key issues in the race to replace Governor Hirohiko Izumida, who was famous for his tough stance on Tokyo Electric. He unexpectedly announced in August that he wouldn’t seek a fourth term.

To the residents of the prefecture, Yoneyama was the candidate who would make nuclear safety a priority, while his main opponent gave off the vibe that he was a member of the nuclear restarts camp, the former governor said by e-mail.

Switching Sides

In last year’s gubernatorial race for the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, where Kyushu Electric Power Co. operates the Sendai nuclear plant, a three-term incumbent was defeated by an opponent campaigning to temporarily close the reactors. A district court last year barred Kansai Electric Power Co. from running two reactors at its Takahama station in western Japan only weeks after they’d been turned back on.

Yoneyama supported bringing back online Japan’s reactors during his unsuccessful bid in 2012 for a seat in Japan’s lower house. The country was being forced to spend more on fossil fuel imports after the disaster, so restarting the plants was needed to help the economy recover, he said at the time.

Though Yoneyama’s position switch helped secure his first electoral victory after four failed campaigns for the country’s legislature, nuclear opponents see him driven by more than political opportunism.

“I had my reservations about Yoneyama,” said Takehiko Igarashi, an official at the Niigata division of the anti-nuclear group Nakusou Genpatsu. “But after he was vetted and endorsed by the Japanese Communist Party and other smaller parties that have an anti-nuclear slant, I knew that I could trust him.”

evTokyo Electric and Abe’s government see restarting KK as one way for Japan’s biggest utility to boost profits and help manage its nearly 16 trillion yen ($139 billion) share of the Fukushima cleanup. Resuming reactors No. 6 and No. 7 will boost annual profits by as much as 240 billion, the utility has said.

The economic argument, however, is beginning to hold less sway, with Yoneyama saying the benefits to the local economy are ‘overstated.’ While the prefecture risks missing out on 1.1 billion yen a year in government support without the restart, that represents a small slice of the prefecture’s budget, which tops 1 trillion yen, according to Yoneyama.

Abe, a strong backer of atomic power, leads a government aiming for nuclear to account for as much as 22 percent of Japan’s energy mix by 2030, compared with a little more than 1 percent now.

While restart opponents like Yoneyama demand the government guarantee the safety of the reactors, they’ve also criticized evacuation and emergency response plans as inadequate.

In his first meeting with Tokyo Electric executives since taking office, Yoneyama earlier this month told Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Naomi Hirose that he won’t support KK’s restart until a new evacuation plan is drawn up using the results of a Fukushima investigation. Tepco will fully cooperate with the probe and stay in communication with the governor, the company said in response to a request for comment.
“Once I realized that the Fukushima disaster couldn’t be easily resolved, of course my opinion changed,” Yoneyama said. “If another accident occurs, overseas tourism will become a distant dream. Even Japanese may flee the country.” ”

by Stephen Stapczynski and Emi Urabe

source

Japan governor tells Tepco bosses nuclear plant to stay shut — Yahoo! News

” NIIGATA, Japan (Reuters) – The governor of Japan’s Niigata prefecture reiterated his opposition to the restart of Tokyo Electric Power’s (Tepco) Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant, adding it may take a few years to review the pre-conditions for restart.

During a meeting on Thursday with Tepco Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Naomi Hirose, Governor Ryuichi Yoneyama, who was elected in October on his anti-nuclear platform, repeated his pledge to keep the plant shut unless a fuller explanation of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster was provided.

He also said that evacuation plans for people in Niigata in case of a nuclear accident and the health impacts that the Fukushima accident have had would need to be reviewed before discussing the nuclear plant’s restart.

The restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant, the world’s largest, is key to helping Tepco rebound from the aftermath of the 2011 disaster at its Fukushima-Daiichi plant.

The Japanese government last month nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($185 billion), increasing the pressure on Tepco to step up reform and improve its performance.

Many of Japan’s reactors are still going through a relicensing process by a new regulator set up after the Fukushima disaster, the world’s worst since Chernobyl in 1986.

Shutting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant for additional years would mean that the company would have to continue relying heavily on fossil fuel-fired power generation such as natural gas.

Governors do not have the legal authority to prevent restarts but their agreement is usually required before a plant can resume operations.

Three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant melted down after a magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, triggering a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan’s northeastern coastline and killed more than 15,000 people. “

by Kentaro Hamada, Reuters

source

Japan’s power industry at crossroads as Fukushima decommissioning costs rise – The Mainichi

” The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry’s plan to add the increased costs of decommissioning the tsunami-hit Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant was scrapped before the end of the year due to a public backlash.

It is estimated that the costs of decommissioning the crippled power station would snowball from 2 trillion yen to 8 trillion yen. An internal document that the ministry had compiled by September last year stated that the costs of compensation payments as well as the decommissioning expenses should be added to power transmission fees that new power companies pay for the use of major utilities’ power grids.

If the decommissioning costs that are expected to increase by trillions of yen were regarded as TEPCO’s debts, the utility would fall into a state of capital deficit — in which the company’s debts surpass its assets. It could force TEPCO to delist its stock on stock markets and make it difficult for banks to continue loaning to the firm.

To avoid such a situation, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has decided to change the accounting rules to allow TEPCO to book the decommissioning costs in separate years. To do so, however, it is necessary to guarantee that the costs can be recovered from TEPCO every year. Two plans surfaced to enable this.

One is to accumulate money to be saved through TEPCO’s cost-cutting measures and management reform at the Nuclear Damage Compensation and Decommissioning Facilitation Corp. (NFD), which would control the decommissioning costs. The other is to add part of the decommissioning costs to transmission fees.

In October, a senior ministry official told LDP legislators behind closed doors, “It’s safer to add the costs to the transmission fees than relying on TEPCO’s management reform.”

However, experts as well as the general public intensified their criticism of the plan to add decommissioning expenses to the transmission fees despite the earlier plan to make sure that TEPCO fully secured funds for decommissioning the plant.

In response, the ministry changed its policy. In a Nov. 8 document that the ministry released when briefing LDP members, it stated the two plans as ways to certainly secure enough funds for decommissioning the plant. However, in its Dec. 1 document, the plan to add the costs to transmission fees was dropped.

“We considered the use of transmission fees but we can’t implement it because of mounting criticism of the plan,” said a ministry official in charge of the matter.

On the other hand, major power suppliers besides TEPCO have footed the costs of paying compensation to those affected by the Fukushima nuclear crisis. An expert committee dealing with the matter proposed at the end of the year that the increase in the amount of compensation payments should be raised by adding the amount to transmissions fees.

Saying that power companies that own nuclear plants should have saved money to respond to nuclear accidents, the panel recommended that new power companies should shoulder part of the costs because their customers had previously benefited from nuclear power run by major utilities.

The committee also proposed that major power suppliers be obligated to supply less expensive electricity, such as power generated at nuclear plants, to new power companies. In other words, the panel attempted to take the carrot-and-stick approach to convince new market entrants.

In response to the recommendations, the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry will implement the proposals after soliciting public comments. As a result of the implementation of the plan, the monthly electric power bill for a standard household in Japan, excluding Okinawa Prefecture where there are no nuclear plants, would rise an average of 18 yen over a 40-year period from 2020.

The ministry patiently and carefully formed consensus among legislators over the plan. The committee’s conclusion was based on its explanatory document that the panel presented to the LDP shortly before.

House of Representatives member Taro Kono and a few other LDP legislators calling for an end to Japan’s reliance on atomic power voiced opposition, but they fell far short of a majority.

Minako Oishi, an adviser on consumer affairs who sits at the experts’ panel, repeatedly voiced opposition to adding compensation costs to transmission fees on the grounds that it would run counter to the purpose of liberalizing the power market. She also released a written statement to that effect. However, she was unable to overwhelm the firm alliance between politicians and bureaucrats.

“I have the impression that the conclusion had been drawn in advance. Such a serious matter as the additional financial burden of dealing with the Fukushima accident should’ve been discussed at the Diet,” Oishi said.

On Dec. 20, 2016, the ministry’s expert committee compiled its recommendations estimating that TEPCO needs to shoulder 16 trillion yen of the cost of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis. The recommendations urged TEPCO to merge each of its divisions, including nuclear power and power transmission, with those of other companies — effectively leading to a split of the utility — and advance into the global market.

On the same day, a message by TEPCO President Naomi Hirose was released through the company’s in-house computer network. “If we steadily continue our work without hesitation, we can open up new opportunities. This is something that only TEPCO can do,” the message said.

However, the message reflects Hirose’s anxiety. Hirose told TEPCO executives the following day at the headquarters, “I’m worried whether employees can maintain their morale. Please try not to make them feel weak.”

TEPCO failed to achieve its goal of getting out of state control as early as fiscal 2017 by improving its business performance — because there are no prospects that its idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa Nuclear Power Plant in Niigata Prefecture can be reactivated in the foreseeable future.

TEPCO Director Keita Nishiyama sat at the news conference on July 28 with Chairman Fumio Sudo and President Hirose, and read a statement saying that “the government needs to clarify its policy” on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the nuclear crisis, which is expected to worsen. Nishiyama is a bureaucrat that the ministry loaned to TEPCO as a board member after placing the utility under state control.

His tough statement indirectly asks the government for assistance. A TEPCO executive said, “It’s not a type of statement written by a private company insider.”

At the news conference, the ministry suggested that it would take the opportunity of discussions on how to shoulder the costs of dealing with the Fukushima nuclear crisis to embark on its long-cherished goal of restructuring the electric power and atomic energy industries.

About two months later, the ministry set up two expert panels — one on TEPCO reform and the other on the reform of the electric power system.

“In Japan, the demand for power has stagnated. In particular, regulations on the atomic energy business are stiff. Therefore, the power industry is a declining industry. There’s no time to lose in promoting business tie-ups and overseas expansion. Discussions shouldn’t be limited to TEPCO reform,” said a ministry official.

However, some TEPCO officials have expressed displeasure at the move. “Infrastructure companies like us are different from manufacturers. It’s important to ensure stable power supply. It’s not true that we should just increase our profits,” one of them said.

At the same time, executives of other major power companies reacted coolly to TEPCO.

“We don’t know how much of the costs of dealing with the Fukushima accident we’ll be required to shoulder,” one of them said.

“TEPCO’s arrogance that stood out in the industry is still fresh in our memory,” another commented.

The ministry and the expert panel on TEPCO reform share the view that TEPCO needs to carry out the largest-scale reforms since Yasuzaemon Matsunaga, the “king of the power industry” who established major power companies’ regional monopolies in order to ensure stable power supply.

However, Japanese semiconductor and liquid crystal manufacturers and other companies that were integrated on the initiative of the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry have not grown as the ministry had aimed.

As such, it remains to be seen whether TEPCO will join hands with other power companies and gain entry into the global market as the ministry envisages. “

by The Mainichi

source

Fukushima cleanup talks put Tepco survival risk in focus — Bloomberg

” Tokyo Electric Power Co. is still struggling to put the Fukushima nuclear disaster behind it, admitting this week that paying for decommissioning the plant in one go risks leaving it insolvent.

The cost to insure debt in Japan’s biggest utility climbed to a seven-month high of 89 basis points on Oct. 5 after President Naomi Hirose said after a meeting in Tokyo with a government commission that the company is asking for help in avoiding financial ruin. Tepco has already received state aid for compensation and decontamination.

The March 2011 nuclear accident and its fallout will ultimately cost more than 11 trillion yen ($106 billion), according to a study by academics including Kenichi Oshima, a professor of economics at Ritsumeikan University. Tepco has estimated that decommissioning alone will cost about 2 trillion yen. Investors should hold off buying bonds of other utilities until there is more clarity on how the government will close the Fukushima plant, according to BNP Paribas SA.

“Now is not the best time to be investing in electricity utility bonds, with discussions going on about nuclear plant decommissioning, and the potential for spreads to widen,” said Mana Nakazora, chief credit analyst at BNP Paribas in Tokyo. Even so, she added, “the government has little choice but to take measures to avoid a default by Tokyo Electric.”

While Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has committed to provide up to 9 trillion yen for compensation to individuals and business hurt by the Fukushima disaster and for decontaminating areas affected, that figure doesn’t include decommissioning of the nuclear plant itself, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service last month.

Scrapping the Fukushima reactors may take 30 years to 40 years, and Tokyo Electric will only start removing debris from the plant from in 2021, a decade after the incident, according to the utility’s road map for dealing with the remnants of the disaster.

In speaking to reporters, Tepco President Hirose was probably making a public case for more government support, according to Yutaka Ban, the chief credit analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc. in Tokyo. Ban said he saw little probability that support will be withheld.

“Things will likely settle down” after the government adopts the new measures, said Ban. “Without government support, the costs would be extremely high.” …

Tepco’s credit-default swaps have come down from as high as 1,762 basis points in October 2011, according to data provider CMA. The utility has said it plans to return to the bond market by the end of the fiscal year to March 2017. Jun Oshima, a spokesman for Tokyo Electric, said that plan is still in place. It stopped issuing notes after the Fukushima disaster.

The extra yield on Tepco’s 1.155 percent bonds due in 2020 was 64 basis points more than sovereign debt, the lowest since before the Fukushima disaster, according to Bloomberg-compiled prices. The spread on Osaka-based Kansai Electric Power Co.’s 0.976 percent notes due in 2020 was 39 basis points.

Tokyo Electric has a Ba3 rating from Moody’s and BB- score from S&P Global Ratings, both three levels below investment grade.

“Decommissioning is currently the biggest unknown, and clarity matters in terms of credit,” said Mariko Semetko, a Moody’s analyst in Tokyo. “The lack of clarity there has been holding back the credit quality.” ”

by Finbarr Flynn, Tesun Oh, and Emi Urabe

source

Tepco falls after president highlights Fukushima cost risk — Bloomberg