Tokyo Electric Power Co. “donated” tens of millions of yen to a pro-nuclear village government in August despite promising to abolish such payouts to accelerate compensation for victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
TEPCO, operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and Tohoku Electric Power Co. paid a combined 200 million yen ($2 million) to Rokkasho, Aomori Prefecture, which hosts facilities related to spent nuclear fuel reprocessing, sources said.
The two regional utilities have raised electricity rates, citing financial difficulties due to the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant. The government has also decided to use taxpayer money to deal with the radioactive water problem that TEPCO seems unable to control at the plant.
TEPCO said the payment to Rokkasho was based on a promise made before the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in March 2011.
“The payment is associated with construction of a nuclear plant, and we believe it is different from a donation,” a TEPCO official said. “But we will refrain from commenting on a specific case.”
The industry ministry, however, said the payment to Rokkasho is “close to a donation.”
Masaru Kaneko, a professor of public finance at Keio University, said the government should do something to end such actions by TEPCO, which has been effectively brought under state control.
“The provision of this sort of money is abnormal, given that compensation for nuclear disaster victims and containment of contaminated water have stalled and that further hikes in electricity rates have been mentioned,” Kaneko said.
The payment to the village has been made since fiscal 2010 in the name of promoting fisheries business around Higashidori, a village north of Rokkasho, where TEPCO is planning to build a nuclear plant and Tohoku Electric already operates another.
The two companies agreed to pay 200 million yen annually for five years. TEPCO and Tohoku Electric paid 133.4 million yen and 66.6 million yen, respectively, until fiscal 2012.
In May 2012, when the government decided to inject taxpayer money into TEPCO, the utility said it would stop making donations to local governments.
According to documents obtained by The Asahi Shimbun and sources in the Rokkasho village government, this year’s payment was initially expected around May or June.
TEPCO, citing financial difficulties, proposed an installment plan. Eventually, TEPCO and Tohoku Electric completed payments on Aug. 30 and Aug. 26, respectively. The breakdown was the same as in past years.
When TEPCO applied to increase its electricity rates in 2012, the company included the payment to Rokkasho--as part of construction expenses for the Higashidori nuclear plant--into power generation and other costs used as a basis for calculating the rates.
However, the industry ministry refused to include the payment in such costs, saying “it is not essential to supply electricity and is, therefore, close to a donation.”
The ministry noted that compensation was separately paid to fishermen over the construction of the Higashidori plant.
Rokkasho officials said they spend the money from the utilities on squid-fishing boats and farms for kelp and sea urchins.
A Rokkasho official in charge of agricultural, forestry and fisheries business said the village expects to receive the payment next year, too.
“We know that TEPCO and Tohoku Electric are in difficult times, but village programs are planned based on the assumption that the payment will be made,” the official said.
Tohoku Electric began operating a reactor at its Higashidori nuclear power plant in 2005, and TEPCO began building one at its plant in January 2011. The two companies each plan to build an additional reactor.
Tohoku Electric said the company is shouldering its fair share of the expenses for fisheries industry promotion in line with a pre-quake promise, adding that it is necessary to continue to make the payment.
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