It is obvious that work to deal with the meltdowns should not be left entirely to TEPCO. The government that has promoted nuclear power and actively helped power companies secure land and construction costs for nuclear plants must not evade its responsibility. The use of taxpayers’ money is inevitable.
Since the government is set to use taxpayers’ money, it must not repeat the mistakes of the past. In other words, the government needs to admit that its nuclear power policy was wrong and fundamentally review it. Electric power companies are required to shoulder unlimited liabilities for accidents at nuclear plants they operate under the Act on Compensation for Nuclear Damage. However, even TEPCO, the largest company in the industry, cannot fully shoulder the costs of dealing with the disaster.
Still, the problem will never be solved even if an upper limit is to be set on utilities’ liabilities for nuclear accidents because such a measure would require the government to bear the costs beyond the upper limit. In other words, it is inevitable for taxpayers to shoulder a huge amount of financial burden once a serious accident occurs at an atomic power station.
Electric power firms are forced to operate thermal power plants powered by natural gas and oil at full capacity to make up for the loss of nuclear power, costing the utilities more than 3 trillion yen in extra fuel expenses a year. Those in favor of nuclear power say nuclear fuel is far less expensive than fossil fuels as one of the reasons why they are promoting atomic energy. The cost-effectiveness of power generation cannot be ignored in Japan, which is beginning to show signs of overcoming its longstanding deflation as a result of “Abenomics,” economic policies promoted by Prime Minister Abe.
However, the promotion of nuclear power was based on the myth of the infallible safety of nuclear plants. Since that safety myth has collapsed, nuclear plants have lost their edge even in terms of cost-effectiveness.
Furthermore, the government should demand TEPCO drastically reform its management in an effort to win the public’s understanding for the use of public funds. TEPCO claims that it has streamlined its operations more thoroughly than required by its corporate rehabilitation plan endorsed by the government. Still, the government’s Board of Audit has pointed out that the utility has wasted some money in procuring materials and equipment. Moreover, TEPCO should consider disposing some of its assets. The utility needs to be fully aware that it has come under pressure to thoroughly streamline its operations.
The ruling coalition’s proposal also suggests that TEPCO can either split its division specializing in decommissioning nuclear reactors or transform itself into an independent administrative agency.
In reforming itself, however, TEPCO must aim to maintain the morale of workers struggling to bring the nuclear crisis under control and make steady progress in the work, as well as step up the streamlining of its operations to the extent that it will not sacrifice the safety of its nuclear plants in an effort to lessen the financial burden on taxpayers. Moreover, TEPCO must secure a stable supply of electric power.
To that end, it is necessary to consider the most appropriate management structure of the company.
Read more at Editorial: Failure of nuclear power policy shows Japan must get rid of all nuke plants