The Environment Ministry has failed to use 76.6 percent, or 247.2 billion yen, of its budget to decontaminate radioactive areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the Board of Audit said.
Progress has been slow because opposition from local residents is making it difficult for the ministry to secure places to temporarily store the contaminated soil and debris collected in the work.
The ministry faces another problem: Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the stricken Fukushima plant, refuses to cover all the costs of the decontamination work as required under law.
The Board of Audit investigated the ministry’s budget of about 322.8 billion yen ($3.2 billion) for decontamination work for the period until March 2013, the end of fiscal 2012.
The results were released on Oct. 16.
In September, the Environment Ministry withdrew its plan to complete the decontamination work within fiscal 2013. The slow use of the budget made it clear that the goal was overly optimistic.
“We will make efforts for smooth progress of the decontamination work by obtaining the consent of local residents,” a ministry official said.
The ministry has been decontaminating areas known as “hinan-shiji kuiki,” from where residents were ordered to evacuate immediately after the March 2011 accident at the nuclear plant. The areas are located in 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture.
By the end of July this year, only three of the municipalities-- Tamura, Naraha and Kawauchi--had obtained sufficient storage space for radioactive debris gathered in the decontamination process.
Seven municipalities have secured less than 50 percent of the necessary storage space, including Iitate at 15.2 percent and Minami-Soma at 18.0 percent.
Namie has not acquired any storage place.
By fiscal 2013, the central government had earmarked 1.287 trillion yen for decontamination work. The amount needed is expected to increase.
Under the special measures law to deal with contamination caused by radioactive materials, TEPCO must shoulder all costs of decontamination work conducted by the central government and local governments. The law also stipulates that TEPCO must make efforts to quickly make the payments.
For the work that has been completed so far, the ministry sent TEPCO a bill for about 40.4 billion yen. However, the utility has paid only about 6.7 billion yen, or 16.7 percent.
According to the Board of Audit, TEPCO refuses to cover much of the costs.
The utility has raised doubts over whether certain contamination work was carried out appropriately. It also questioned if such requests for payment are within the limit stipulated under the special measures law, according to the board.
“We are paying the costs we were able to agree on,” a TEPCO official told The Asahi Shimbun. “We cannot comment on the details because we have to discuss them with the Environment Ministry.”
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