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Japan Doubles Cost Estimate for Fukushima Cleanup

  • Associated Press

FILE - A worker, wearing a protective suit and mask, takes notes in front of storage tanks for radioactive water at the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), in Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

A cost estimate to clean up Japan's wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant has doubled to nearly 22 trillion yen ($190 billion), with decommissioning costs expected to continue to rise, according to a government panel Friday.

The estimate raises the decommissioning part of the total costs to 8 trillion yen ($70 billion) from the current 2 trillion ($17.5 billion) because of surging labor and construction costs. Panel officials said the numbers could still grow as experts learn more about the damage to the plant's reactors and determine fuel removal methods.

Costs for compensation, decontamination of the area and waste storage have also grown significantly.

The plant suffered multiple meltdowns following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Officials said its decommissioning will take several decades.

Rising cost estimates mean an increased burden on consumers.

Kunio Ito, Hitotsubashi University professor of commerce who heads the panel, said it would be inevitable for the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. or TEPCO, to pass on to customers part of the costs.

The panel has been discussing ways to keep TEPCO alive so that it can cover the cost that it's responsible for. TEPCO has already received a government bailout, and the panel urged Fukushima cleanup-related operations to effectively stay under state control until the next review in 2019.

The panel's latest estimate showed the cost of compensation would expand to 7.9 trillion yen ($70 billion) from an earlier estimate of 5.4 trillion yen ($47 billion), and that of decontamination to 4 trillion yen ($35 billion) from 2.5 trillion ($22 billion). The estimated cost of waste storage is to edge up to 1.6 trillion yen ($14 billion) from 1.1 trillion yen ($10 billion).

The 10-member panel commissioned by the Trade and Industry Ministry plans to urge TEPCO to perform drastic restructuring and reforms, possibly with a new business alliance with companies in and outside Japan to stay afloat. The panel will submit its recommendations in a final report to Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko later this month.

TEPCO President Naomi Hirose, who was summoned to parliament Friday, pledged to live up to expectations.

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