To win 2020 Olympic for Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared to the world that his government will be "at the forefront" to deal with problems at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant. Reading the article by Nikkei Shinbun about his most recent visit to the plant and comments from his ministers, it sure looks all talk, nothing but talk.
From Nikkei Shinbun (9/19/2013):
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on September 19 and requested TEPCO's President Naomi Hirose to decommission Reactors 5 and 6. By decommissioning the entire plant, not just Reactors 1 through 4, Prime Minister Abe hopes to accelerate the whole response to the accident, including the problems of contaminated water. President Hirose said he would decide within this year, but it is likely that he will agree to the request.
During the meeting with President Hirose, Prime Minister Abe demanded 1) decommissioning of Reactors 5 and 6; 2) allocating enough budget that can be used at the discretion of the plant management; 3) time limit on decontamination of contaminated water.
As to the budgeting, TEPCO has already secured 960 billion yen [967 million US dollars] for countermeasures for contaminated water and decommissioning. President Hirose said his company will secure additional 1 trillion yen [1 billion US dollars, over 10 years]. As to the deadline for the treatment of contaminated water, he promised it would be complete by the end of the fiscal 2014 [that ends in March 2015]. The national government has allocated 15 billion yen [15 million US dollars] out of 47 billion yen [47 million US dollars] that the government will pay for the contaminated water countermeasures to build additional water treatment facility.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said during the press conference on September 19 that there was no plan to revise the support scheme for TEPCO due to the request for decommissioning [by the prime minister]. Suga said the government would do its best within the existing scheme, which includes Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund.
Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshimitsu Motegi spoke to the press in Tokyo in the evening of September 19. He said, "We want TEPCO to make effort to secure the fund," indicating he is not going to allow additional monetary support this time.
The current support system via Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund is only for paying the victims of the nuclear accident, and no money goes from the fund to deal with the accident. All the cost of decommissioning Reactors 1, 2, 3, 4 is being borne by TEPCO alone.
By declaring the decommissioning of Reactors 5 and 6 at Fukushima I Nuke Plant, which are relatively new (operational since 1978 and 1979 respectively), TEPCO would have to immediately write them off on the asset side of the balance sheet, with the offsetting reduction in either the liabilities or shareholders' equity.
That would mean nothing to these politicians. While TEPCO somehow has to earn that money to deal with the accident and decommission, these politicians are fed by taxpayers' money. If Mr. Abe really thinks decommissioning the entire plant all at once will "accelerate the whole response to the accident", he's in a fantasy land.
An elite bureaucrat spokesman from now-abolished Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), which was under Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, said in a press conference in March 2011:
(About the workers at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant not having enough food to eat, no blanket, no spare underwear) we feel sorry for the workers. But this nuclear accident, it is basically TEPCO's problem, not ours. So, no, we are not going to do anything about it as the government, like delivering necessities to the workers.
I was watching the press conference live. My jaw dropped. But judging by the reaction at that time among the ordinary Japanese in Japan, I was clearly alone in thinking this would be one of the rare times where the government could actually be useful.
Well, they couldn't even deliver decent food to the workers in March 2011. It's impossible for me to imagine they are capable of doing anything beyond food delivery, but they sure can talk.