Govt, TEPCO must share compensation burdens
There is no sign yet of when the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture will be brought under control. Compensation for damages stemming from the accident is bound to be tremendous.
Under the current system, TEPCO in principle bears the entire responsibility for paying damages, but the private firm's resources are finite. Consequently, the government must help ensure that people who suffered as a result of the crisis are fully and fairly compensated.
The government has established a headquarters to deal with economic damage due to the nuclear power plant crisis, with all Cabinet ministers as members. It has also set up a dispute reconciliation committee for such damage compensation, an expert panel assigned to draft compensation guidelines. We hope the government will come up with concrete measures on the issue.
Huge compensation needed
TEPCO plans to provide provisional compensation payments as early as this month, of 1 million yen per household to evacuated families and those living in zones where people have been advised to keep indoors. Many such people are facing financial difficulties in everyday life as a result of their hasty evacuations. We hope TEPCO will make the payments as soon as possible.
After the provisional payments, work toward realizing full-fledged compensation, such as calculating an appropriate sum for each household, should be treated as an urgent task.
In the case of the 1999 criticality accident at JCO Co.'s nuclear fuel conversion facility in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, 150 people evacuated for three days, resulting in total compensation of 15 billion yen for business and personal damages.
The number of evacuees concerned this time is far greater, currently estimated at about 80,000, and is expected to increase further. Damage to farms and fisheries caused by radioactive substances is also expanding and serious.
The Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage stipulates that the state will pay up to 120 billion yen per nuclear power plant in the case of an accident caused by an earthquake or tsunami. That is probably far short of the amount necessary this time.
But the law also stipulates that, if the damage is caused by "an abnormally large natural disaster," the central government will shoulder the entire cost of compensation.
However, the government and TEPCO have different views on the meaning of "an abnormally large natural disaster," making a settlement of the issue likely to take considerable time.
Follow basic principle
To accelerate the work of extending compensation to evacuated residents, it would be appropriate to follow the basic principle of the law: TEPCO accepts a certain degree of burden and the central government assists by paying the rest.
In that case, an important point will be how to decide the amount of compensation to be shouldered by TEPCO. If the company's financial strength is so depleted that it has difficulty maintaining service and is unable to invest in programs to beef up its power supply capacity, it could lead to serious problems in the future.
While taking necessary steps on one hand, such as clarifying TEPCO's degree of corporate responsibility for failing to prevent the accident, the government has to decide on a compensation amount that would leave the utility firm solvent.
Recently a new compensation plan surfaced. According to the plan, in addition to burdens to be paid by TEPCO, other power companies will offer financial contributions in a mutual aid system, according to the number of nuclear reactors each company possesses.
The Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant crisis is a serious problem, not only for TEPCO but for the entire power industry. To prepare for an emergency, it may be better for the industry to adopt a mechanism such as the mutual aid system, under which the companies help each other.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 15, 2011)