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Gov't money allotted to decontamination work not used

June 12, 2013

State withholds more than 60% of Fukushima cleanup budget 





The central government held back more than 60 percent of the 255 billion yen ($2.57 billion) recovery budget earmarked in fiscal 2012 for radioactive cleanup efforts overseen by municipal governments in Fukushima Prefecture.

The central government is directly overseeing cleanup efforts in the vicinity of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The central government has also set aside separate amounts to cover the expenses of decontamination work overseen by 36 municipal governments in Fukushima Prefecture. The cash has been deposited in a fund administered by the prefectural government.

It pays for the work initially, but later sends corresponding bills to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the plant operator.

The thriftiness is apparently partly due to consideration for TEPCO, which eventually has to cover the expenses of the cleanup. Rigorous restrictions apply.

The finding by The Asahi Shimbun raises questions over the consistency of the practice, given the Abe administration's official pledge to speed up the decontamination work.

It emerges that 158 billion yen in leftovers from the budget earmarked for the decontamination of radioactive fallout triggered by reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima plant following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster was carried forward into the current fiscal year, which started in April.

Documents disclosed by the prefectural government showed that only 97 billion yen, or less than 40 percent of the allocated budget, was used in fiscal 2012. Thirty-two municipal governments carried over residual amounts into the current fiscal year, with 17 of them not even spending half of their allocations.

Nevertheless, the central government has set aside an additional 204.7 billion yen in the fiscal 2013 budget for cleanup work, including new cash injections into the prefectural fund.

Officials in municipal governments have pointed out that cleanup methods proposed by their governments are often rejected by the Environment Ministry, which strictly adheres to its rigorous decontamination guidelines. That comes on top of delays in securing land plots for hosting temporary waste storage depots and a shortage of cleanup workers.

The Environment Ministry holds meetings with municipal governments to decide on the applicability of decontamination methods in the absence of clear-cut standards. The ministry has so far refused to approve the replacement of drain spouts and the use of other costly cleanup methods.

An official with the ministry's Fukushima Office for Environmental Restoration told The Asahi Shimbun that decisions are being made with TEPCO's opinions factored in.

"We cannot approve methods that TEPCO does not approve," the official said.

A senior official with a different central government body expressed sympathy with the Environment Ministry's stance.

"It's only natural to negotiate matters so that TEPCO would not refuse payments," the senior official said.

So far, TEPCO has refused to pay 15.9 billion yen of the 21.2 billion yen in central government bills, citing ambiguities in the decontamination standards. The central government is likely to end up paying the bills that TEPCO has refused to pay.

Talks were held on 284 cleanup issues in fiscal 2012. It can take up to six months before a conclusion is reached.

"The cleanup processes will speed up only if the municipal governments are given the authority to make decisions," said an official with the Fukushima city government.

Ironically, the budget for decontamination processes, which the central government has pledged to promote on its own responsibility, has remained noticeably underused at a time when the national budget earmarked for other post-quake recovery efforts are found to have been diverted to apparently irrelevant purposes.

There is a strong sense of distrust among officials in municipal governments, who believe the central government is citing meticulous rules as a pretext to curb the use of the cleanup budget.

"We are discussing the cleanup processes with the Environment Ministry but we cannot disclose the details," a TEPCO representative said.

(This article was written by Shinichi Sekine and Eiji Zakoda.)

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