Nine of Japan’s electric utilities spent a combined 2.4 trillion yen ($27.6 billion) to sponsor TV programs and run ads in print media over four decades to promote nuclear power and underscore the safety of their plants, The Asahi Shimbun has found.
The lavish campaign apparently helped utilities to expand their influence on media outlets and allowed them to hold considerable sway in objecting to negative reporting on nuclear power.
The utilities’ PR spending began to soar in the late 1970s and, in 1986, topped twice the level registered around the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the United States, according to the investigation by The Asahi Shimbun. In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster occurred in what is now Ukraine.
The utilities are regional monopolies, meaning they have no competitors in the areas they serve.
The exorbitant spending is potentially contentious because utilities had been allowed to calculate electricity rates by listing the expenditures as part of expenses to generate and transmit electricity, such as fuel and payroll costs.
In addition, utilities could also include expected profits as total costs before they applied to the government for approval of an electricity rate hike.
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, however, decided in March 2012 not to authorize ad expenses as part of costs unless they are considered absolutely necessary under the new rules.
The utilities expended a combined 20 billion yen a year on their PR efforts until the Three Mile Island accident. Then, the spending doubled to top 40 billion yen following the Chernobyl disaster and continued to soar in the early 1990s.
Hiroyoshi Sunakawa, associate professor of media theory at Rikkyo University, said the surge reflects utilities’ intention to try to expand their influences on news organizations.
“It is easy to see that by spending a large sum on ads, utilities tried to keep a close eye on media organization’s negative reporting on nuclear power plants,” he said.
Sunakawa said utilities are obliged to explain to the public about ad spending because the costs were factored into their electricity rates. He also urged media outlets to examine if they considered it “taboo” to negatively report on nuclear power.
The late Tatsuru Suzuki, former head of the publicity department at the Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, reportedly told a meeting of presidents of utilities that promoting nuclear energy costs a lot of money.
“It is expensive to promote nuclear power,” Suzuki was quoted as saying in his book. “You should think of it as part of construction costs, not just publicity expenses.”
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