Debate within the government over measures to compensate for damage caused by the accident at Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant has entered the final phase. But we find the reported contents hard to understand in many ways.
At a time when the entire picture of damage remains unclear, the government is only focusing on how to adjust the interests of concerned parties such as whether to set a cap on the burden borne by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the plant.
While the government is demanding TEPCO implement strict restructuring measures, it appears the discussion is based on the major premise that it would continue to operate as a listed company.
We repeat that the most important thing the government must hasten to do in studying compensation measures is to ensure that payments are promptly and adequately made to sufferers, and power supply to areas covered by TEPCO is not disrupted.
The purpose is not to "protect" TEPCO. Compensation payments and and power supply can be realized even if the company cannot maintain its current form. If the government clarifies its engagement "to require TEPCO to firmly make payments," there is much room to come up with ideas.
To begin with, the TEPCO problem is inseparable with Japan's electricity and energy policy. It should be debated within a much larger picture.
Is it right to sit back and do nothing to change the electric power industry, which has maintained strong ties with politics and the administration while being protected by regional monopolies? Will Japan continue nuclear power generation in the future? If so, should it leave individual power companies to continue to operate nuclear power plants as they have been doing up to now? Or should they be separated?
Is it not possible to use funds invested in the nuclear fuel cycle project to reuse used nuclear fuel?
By sorting out these points and coming up with a direction, we should be able to determine TEPCO's ability to shoulder the burden in concrete terms. How much can it afford to pay with proceeds from its business and sales of its assets? A decision must be made based on concrete grounds.
In the process, naturally, the responsibility of shareholders will also be questioned. Financial institutions will also be required to "shoulder a burden" in some form for their financial claims in general against TEPCO, excluding emergency loans after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
Still, if payments cannot be met in the end, the public may be required to pick up the tab through an increase in electricity charges. Also for that matter, a careful procedure is needed.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan gave a news conference May 10 to announce plans to put the government's basic energy policy back on the drawing board and emphasize the development of natural energy sources. The way electric power supply is left to 10 companies should also be re-examined in the course of discussion.
Repeated attempts to reform the electric power supply system have failed. The unprecedented crisis this time is a chance to implement drastic reforms.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 11