To accelerate work at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, the industry ministry plans to place a new decommissioning division within the government-backed fund responsible for compensating victims of the disaster.
The plan has already produced some puzzled looks.
“I was surprised when I heard (about it) from an official of the industry ministry’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy at the end of last year,” said Hajimu Yamana, who is expected to lead the new division. “Compensation and decommissioning are two different worlds.”
The plan is part of the Abe administration’s decision to play a greater role in decommissioning, controlling radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and cleaning up areas contaminated by radioactive fallout.
Previously, these issues were left entirely in the hands of Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the plant that experienced a triple meltdown after the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.
Under the plan, a division in charge of decommissioning will be set up within the Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund (NDLFF) by absorbing the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning (IRID), sources said.
The IRID, currently headed by Yamana, is an association of electric power companies and nuclear reactor manufacturers. It was organized under a government initiative last summer to develop technologies required for decommissioning the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
The new division will be established as early as in fiscal 2014 after revisions are made to the law governing the NDLFF, the sources said. Related bills will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session that convenes this month.
The new division, consisting of dozens of experts, will be responsible for technological development. It will also oversee TEPCO’s decommissioning work and order improvements when problems arise, the sources said.
Yamana said Japan should instead create a public agency tasked with decommissioning, modeled after Britain’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and provide the technology, fund and responsibility required for its mission.
“If the IRID’s founding scores 20 out of 100, the merger with the NDFFL marks 45,” he said. “A positive development is that (the new division) will be able to hire decommissioning experts and supervise TEPCO’s work.”
The decommissioning of the Fukushima plant is expected to take decades. Yamana said Japan should draw up an overall plan within a few years and build a framework for mobilizing technology, fund and personnel.
“The coming several years are crucial,” he said. “If we crawl along as we have done, radioactive contamination will spread to groundwater and the sea. We have to pick up our pace.”
Even some industry ministry bureaucrats are critical of the proposed marriage between the IRID and the NDFFL, describing the two partners as an unmatched couple.
A senior official said the ministry is prepared to “redesign the framework” if the realignment fails to work.
The industry ministry long maintained that TEPCO is legally responsible for decommissioning, although some experts said Japan should create a specialist agency based on the British model.
TEPCO has failed to make progress in decommissioning the reactors and dealing with leaks of radioactive water at the plant. The government has decided to commit its own resources in line with a ruling coalition proposal submitted in autumn last year.
Yamana said Japan must first develop a technology strategy for decommissioning and then determine an organizational setup and the amount of money needed to carry out that strategy.
“(However,) discussions always start from a bureaucratic organization and a budget in Japan,” he said, adding that the government apparently decided to use the NDLFF as a platform to secure an organization and funding for decommissioning.
(Yasuaki Oshika contributed to this article.)
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