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Costs in problem-plagued struggle at Fukushima plant near 600 billion yen

Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government have spent 590 billion yen ($4.93 billion) battling the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but problems persist and taxpayers could lose if the situation doesn’t improve, the Board of Audit said.

TEPCO initially estimated that the entire process of decommissioning the No. 1, 2, 3 and 4 reactors at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and taking measures against the daily accumulation of contaminated water would cost 1 trillion yen.

The plant operator had already used 400 billion yen by the end of fiscal 2013. But the numerous water leaks, errors and mishaps at the plant prompted the government to appropriate 189 billion yen to the utility by the end of fiscal 2014.

In addition, the government will cover up to 9 trillion yen of TEPCO’s expenses for compensating victims of the disaster and decontaminating areas around the plant. Under that plan, TEPCO and other electric power companies will eventually pay back most of these costs.

However, a Board of Audit official indicated that the return of taxpayer money would hinge on progress at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

“If the decommissioning process and the measures against the buildup of contaminated water are not carried out smoothly, it could affect the government’s plans to recover the expenses,” the official said.

Four years after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami caused the triple meltdown at the plant, TEPCO continues facing difficulties, particularly dealing with the groundwater that keeps entering reactor buildings and becoming contaminated with radiation.

As of January, about 600,000 tons of contaminated water was stored in tanks on the plant grounds. But water purification systems, which cost tens of billions of yen in investments, have experienced a series of malfunctions.

In addition, 40.7 billion yen, including 31.9 billion yen from a government fund, was earmarked to create a frozen wall of soil to divert clean groundwater away from the plant and into the ocean. That project started in June 2014, but progress has been slow, and doubts remain about the efficacy of the plan.

As for the actual decommissioning of the reactors, radiation levels are so high in some areas of the plant that workers cannot even approach to determine the extent of the damage to the nuclear fuel.

“We still estimate the costs to deal with the decommissioning process and the buildup of contaminated water at about 1 trillion yen,” a TEPCO public relations officer said. “We plan to add another trillion yen to the budget to avoid a shortage of funds, and we hope to avoid affecting the government’s plans to recover the expenses.”

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