Tokyo Electric Power Co. continued to dole out large sums to rural villages hosting nuclear power facilities even after the company was supposedly strapped for cash because of the Fukushima nuclear accident.
Documents obtained by The Asahi Shimbun showed that TEPCO paid 76 million yen ($960,000) to Higashidori, Aomori Prefecture, where a nuclear power plant is being constructed. The payments--61 million yen at the end of fiscal 2010 and 15 million yen at the end of fiscal 2011--were made after the earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdowns at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant on March 11 last year.
TEPCO also paid about 270 million yen to Rokkasho, also in Aomori Prefecture, after the nuclear accident started, according to the documents.
The company said the payments to the villages were not donations and insisted that the money provided to Higashidori was part of construction expenses for building the nuclear plant.
But in July, industry ministry officials who were appraising TEPCO's application to raise household electricity rates concluded that the payments to the two villages "were of a nature close to donations or expenses to improve relations with local communities that were not necessary for the supply of electricity."
The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry decided not to include such payments from the current fiscal year and beyond as necessary expenses used to calculate household electricity rates.
In May, TEPCO announced it was doing away with donations to local governments as a cost-cutting measure to come up with the funds to compensate victims of the nuclear accident.
The company went under virtual state control in June to help it cover the enormous costs for decontamination efforts, compensation for the thousands of residents and businesses forced to relocate, and the eventual decommissioning of the destroyed reactors.
TEPCO this year raised electricity rates for its customers, citing the rising expenses for fuel to run its thermal power plants.
Since at least fiscal 2007, TEPCO and Tohoku Electric Power Co., under an agreement with Higashidori, have provided subsidies to help the village's fishing industry. The size of the subsidy is set through annual discussions by the parties involved, and there is no set overall figure.
TEPCO officials said they handled the payments as nuclear plant construction costs because the subsidies were decided during compensation negotiations held in conjunction with the planned construction of the plant.
"While there have been some partial payments of subsidies to support the fishing industry, based on promises made before the nuclear accident, we would like to refrain from stating the date and amount of the payment," a TEPCO official said.
Higashidori officials said the money was used to buy abalone and flatfish fry.
Earlier, Higashidori village officials told The Asahi Shimbun that they had not received any payments from TEPCO.
But after Asahi ran a story in August about TEPCO's payment to Rokkasho, the Higashidori village government submitted a written response that said: "We have confirmed that a payment was made. We apologize for the misunderstanding about the initial question."
(This article was written by Yo Noguchi and Satoshi Otani.)
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