Editorial: TEPCO's request for more funds a payback for gov't dodging responsibility
In a new management plan compiled by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant is seeking additional assistance from the government. TEPCO's previous restoration plan was only just drawn up in May. That it has already been reassessed shows that the government is paying sorely for having left its own responsibility ambiguous.
In addition to providing relief to victims of the nuclear disaster, TEPCO, which has a one-third market share in Japan, has a responsibility to take on a leading role in reforming the utility system.
The government should make its responsibility for the nuclear disaster explicit, and sincere efforts should be made by TEPCO to alleviate burdens shouldered by the public before a provision of additional assistance to TEPCO is approved.
To pay for victim compensation, TEPCO is receiving a maximum 5 trillion yen from the government through the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund, which will be paid back every year from the company's profits. Ostensibly, the public is ultimately meant to shoulder none of the burden.
However, TEPCO is now seeking direct assistance -- which, if approved, will not require repayment -- citing the possibility that compensation, including decontamination costs, may balloon to around 10 trillion yen. The request must not be approved without thorough evaluation, but the decision to make the request was one reached by the external board members selected by the government.
If TEPCO were to become a body existing just for the purpose of repaying debts, it would suffer from talent drain and other phenomena that would weaken the company. It would have to prioritize generating profits to pay off its loans, which would prevent it from taking initiative in reforming the utility system. The current setup, in which all responsibility for compensation is left up to TEPCO, appears to have run into a brick wall.
The promotion of nuclear power was a government policy. TEPCO bears a heavy responsibility for causing the disaster, but the government bears a responsibility for having given its stamp of approval on the safety of the company's reactors. The government needs to stop carrying out half-measures in an attempt to leave the question of its own responsibility for that unanswered.
Thus far, the government has gone without bearing any responsibility for compensation, because no provision in the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage forces it to do so. It was the lack of an alternative body to provide compensation to victims that comprised the main argument against TEPCO's legal liquidation. In that case, the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage must be revised to clearly assign responsibility to both TEPCO and the government before the government can grant additional assistance to the utility.
If the government is going to approve the reactivation of halted nuclear reactors for the time being -- despite putting forth a new energy policy of independence from nuclear power by the 2030s -- a revision of the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage is indispensible in preparing for the chance that victims of another nuclear disaster will need relief.
Direct assistance funded by taxes means a direct burden on the public. To gain the understanding of the public, the government must sort through the problems of its past nuclear policy through deliberations on law reform. The public is bound to object to pumping taxes into TEPCO without holding its creditors, such as shareholders and major banks, accountable. The pros and cons must be thoroughly debated in the process of rethinking nuclear policy.
In its new management plan, TEPCO has mapped out ways to contribute more to Fukushima's reconstruction, proposed further streamlining, and promoted management reform that would take it toward a holding company system. These are all a matter of course if TEPCO is to receive further government assistance, and we hope to see them put into practice.
November 12, 2012(Mainichi Japan)