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Panel wants new power suppliers to add charges to bills to cover Fukushima costs

An expert committee of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry put together a recommendation on Dec. 16 for energy policy revisions that would have new, small-scale power suppliers also help cover compensation for the Fukushima nuclear disaster and reactor decommissioning costs by adding charges to consumer power bills.

The estimated total cost of handling the Fukushima disaster has nearly doubled from 11 trillion yen to 21.5 trillion yen, with further increases possible. Since the disaster, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the disaster-stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, has been paying around 70 billion yen a year in disaster-related costs from its own money. TEPCO and other major power providers have also been paying around an additional 163 billion yen a year by charging higher power bills.

The plan would raise consumers' share of the burden yet further. Under a scenario recommended by the committee, up to 60 billion yen a year for 40 years starting from fiscal 2020, or up to a total of 2.4 trillion yen, would be paid through charges to the power transmission costs of both traditional power producers and new producers.

Regarding this 2.4 trillion yen, the ministry argues, "The money should have been prepared prior to the accident at the Fukushima plant," but says that, since that didn't happen, "It is appropriate for all past users of cheap power (including those who switched to non-nuclear sources after the disaster) to equally share the burden (of post-disaster costs.)" Under ministry calculations, the proposal would lead to an additional payment of 18 yen per month for 40 years for an average household.

Additionally, the plan, which would also start in fiscal 2020, would have new power producers help finance the plans of major power producers to decommission aging nuclear reactors through higher power transmission costs.

In exchange for new power producers paying part of the compensation costs, major utilities would supply more power from cheap sources to the market, such as nuclear power and coal, which can be used by smaller providers.

Yoh Yasuda, specially-appointed professor at Kyoto University, is critical of this, saying, "This will lead to the protection of traditional power sources like coal and nuclear, and serve as a barrier to new technologies like renewable energy entering the market."

The economy ministry argues that even with the extra costs for the Fukushima disaster added on, nuclear power is still cheaper than thermal power. At the meeting on Dec. 16, committee member Toshihiro Matsumura, a professor at the University of Tokyo, criticized the move, saying, "If the ministry claims that nuclear power is still cheap even after including the massive compensation costs, nuclear power producers and the ministry should realize that there will be people who say those utilities should cover the costs themselves instead of pushing the burden onto others." However, most of the committee members generally agreed on the plan. After soliciting opinions from the public, the proposal will be officially decided upon.

The plan would go into effect with just a ministry order, not requiring a law amendment through the Diet, and there is criticism that the plan is being made without enough input from the public. The non-partisan Diet group working for zero nuclear power plants, jointly headed by Taro Kono of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Shoichi Kondo of the main opposition Democratic Party, has released a statement saying, "The idea of adopting a proposal after no public discussion, with no participation from the Diet at all in its creation, is unspeakable, as it will twist the basis of power system reforms and increase the burden on the people."

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