05/16/2011 Eastern Japan Earthquake/Nuclear crisis/TEPCO

(Chairman) Mr. Yasuo Tanaka. Please take the podium.
(Yasuo Tanaka) I’m Yasuo Tanaka, speaking on behalf of New Party Nippon and its parliamentary group partner People’s New Party.
What we’ve heard so far, especially what Mr. Masataka Shimizu from TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has told us, is a bit short on specifics and I find it frustrating.
It’s thoughtless for anyone to tell quake-survivors to keep on fighting or do their best. It’s like imposing a war-time do-or-die spirit on someone who’s already fighting hard enough. Instead of telling people to raise their fists and fight out, we should have the spirit of sharing the burden with the people, pulling in our belly muscles to hang tough.
First, I ask Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano a question.
Let me first confirm this. At a news conference on May 12th, you said if the amount of compensation to be paid by TEPCO is within the ordinary scope of assumption, electric fees or tax revenues won’t be used to pay for the compensation. You said, TEPCO and its stakeholders, meaning shareholders and main banks, will pay for the damage on their own. Is it correct?
(Yukio Edano) Unfortunately, under these circumstances, we still cannot have clear prospects on the total amount of damage incurred by the nuclear accident.
However, if the amount of compensation can be kept within a certain range, I believe, under the scheme laid out by the cabinet, no electricity charge increases will be necessary and the compensation will be paid over a period of time and a certain proportion of the burden will be shared by the stakeholders at their good will.
(Yasuo Tanaka) You talk about the total amount of compensation, but I don’t understand why there’s no signs of due diligence performed on TEPCO assets.
That may explain why Mr. Tetsuhiro Hosono, who is the director-general of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency, made a controversial remark at an editorial writers’ meeting the agency held on Friday, the 13th, the ominous day, one day after Mr. Edano first said what he’s now just said. Mr. Hosono said he honestly doubted the significance of coming up with the compensations scheme, if the chief cabinet secretary ended up saying such a thing. One of the editors who were present at the meeting is a witness to this.
Mr. Edano, You apparently said the compensation fund can be secured without electricity rate hikes. That means revenues for compensation won’t have to come from increases in electricity charges or taxes. That means the money will be paid by TEPCO through its self-help efforts. But the actual scheme now being presented by the government is totally different. It’s at the opposite end of the spectrum. And the director-general of the Natural Resources and Energy Agency confirmed the discrepancy at the editorial writers’ meeting. It’s tantamount to saying the government scheme is designed to protect TEPCO’s interests and those of its shareholders and banks. Am I correct?
There’s more. Some say when a crisis occurs at a private firm and the responsibility shifts to the state or taxpayers, it’s no longer capitalism. I agree entirely. The remark was made by German sociologist Ulrich Beck in an interview with Asahi Shinbun. Mr. Beck is a member of the German government’s advisory committee reviewing the nuclear power policy under German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Ms. Merkel announced changes in Germany’s energy strategy and accelerated departure from nuclear energy. Mr. Beck made the remark when asked to comment on Japan’s incomprehensible response to the nuclear crisis.
You see, Japan is a capitalist state, because we have the free market economy. Capitalism, of course, needs to be improved. But if we choose to side with the strong and crush the weak in dealing with an enterprise, this time TEPCO, act irresponsibly by way of National Socialism and try putting a band-aid on the fundamental problem, Japan will no longer be a state under the rule of law.
Mr. Edano, you said just a while ago, if the amount of damage is kept within a certain, scope of assumption, the burden won’t be shifted to the public. Would you specify in concrete terms what you would call the amount of damage within a certain scope of assumption?
(Yukio Edano) If I were to give specific figures now, the question then would be what if the amount of compensation exceeds that assumption. Damage has been reported in various places. The government has the responsibility to continue making utmost efforts to prevent the damage from spreading further and to contain it to the minimum level. But as I said, if the damage is within the scope of so-far reported cases, I believe financial resources for compensation can come from TEPCO and its stakeholders, through their good efforts and in the process of due diligence.
(Yasuo Tanaka) But unless the government clarifies when, how and who will perform the due diligence, people will harbor suspicions, wondering how much TEPCO will be able to pay and how much debts and cash flow it has.
TEPCO is a community-based monopoly and different from airline or phone companies or automobile firms which have competitors. Monthly cash revenues of hundreds of billion of yen are guaranteed for the company. However hard people in the Kanto region try to save energy every day and however ‘planless’ rolling or controlled blackouts can be, the people cannot buy electricity from the Hokkaido Electric Power Company or the Kansai Electric Power Company.
I believe due diligence or a financial probe needs to be conducted to secure TEPCO’s current assets. Otherwise, it’s impossible to obtain public understanding.
Looking back, I still cannot support the scheme which dealt with the financially-strapped Japan Airlines. It was presented by Mr. Seiji Maehara who was the Land, Infrastructure and Transport Minister at the time. I still don’t believe it was a good decision. JAL once took pride in bearing the national flag but was delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange through asset revaluation. The carrier lowered pension benefits for its retirees and many employees were forced to retire. What about TEPCO? Some argue employees’ nest eggs are at stake, but what about those who owned JAL shares? They also trusted the air carrier.
Capitalism is not merciless but coldly objective. It’s based on the principle of self-responsibility. TEPCO is insolvent and therefore it’s virtually bankrupt. Our parliamentary partner Mr. Shizuka Kamei also shares the same view. TEPCO says bonuses for rank-and-file employees will be reduced by half. But I suspect if they still get paid an average 400 thousand yen as bonus, quake-survivors will find it difficult to accept that.
I believe TEPCO should reduce its capital. If it’s cut 100 percent, it will at least be worth several trillion yen. Or, the article 37 of the Electricity Business Law guarantees preferential payment for electric company bonds. That means the corporate bond market won’t collapse as a result of this. There’s more. TEPCO is also flooding the airwaves with apology ads.
Some say those ads will in the end have economic effect, but the company is spending hundreds of millions of yen for the ads. It’s urgent for the government to clarify when, how and by whom the due diligence process will be performed.
With the meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, Japan, the victim of the massive earthquake and tsunami, has become the victimizer of radiation proliferation worldwide. It’s a matter of grave concern. With the viral nature of radiation whose extent of damage, concentration and accumulation is ever-changing, I’m afraid the fight to control the invisible enemy will never end, just like the fight against terrorism which spreads around the globe.
I earlier quoted a remark by Mr. Beck, a German sociologist. Ordinary traffic accidents or explosions often result in casualties, but the damage is usually restricted to certain locations, certain time frames and certain social groups. But radiation contamination is different. It may affect the rest of the world socially and geographically without limitations. It may not only affect onshore but offshore as well. Japan may end up being held responsible for causing damage which far-exceeds that of the Minamata mercury or  itai-itai (ouch-ouch) diseases here in Japan and in the rest of the world.
People may harbor suspicions that the biggest dispatcher of false information is the one deliberately keeping accurate information from the public. The Imperial Army-like messages such as ‘So far, so good,’ I’m afraid, will in the end throw the nation to a bottomless pit.
Some may argue providing the public with immediate information uncontrolled will create confusion among the public, but I’d rather believe the confused are the nerds who fancy themselves as experts and have their necks against the edge of a sword. If the situation is left unaddressed, Japan may no longer be a country ruled by law but may become a society extralegal, but not in the good sense of the word.
A roadmap that needs to be presented now is neither for the relief of TEPCO nor for immediate compensation for area residents for that matter, but it should be presented for all quake-survivors who suffered damage.
Japan has been exposed to radiation. We say our land was contaminated by radiation. But I’d rather say it’s been occupied by radiation. The question is what should we do about it?
People need food, clothing and shelters to protect them from the cold and hunger. But what they need most is desire to live. People can have the desire to live only when their workplace and accommodations are secured. I volunteered to help in the wake of the great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. I felt that firsthand.
I challenge Mr. Kan to fulfill the need of the people in the hard-hit regions. For instance, how about requiring people living in a tens of kilometer radius from the crippled nuclear power plant to evacuate their homes, while providing them with decent jobs and accommodations so they can have the desire to live and work. How about measuring accurately the radiation levels and when the level becomes lower than the set safety standards, we can encourage survivors return to their homes. Both Hiroshima and Nagasaki now are peaceful city states. I strongly feel the need to present a roadmap for the survivors, other than just offering the specific amount of compensation payments. Mr. Kan, let me hear your determination.
(Naoto Kan) On April 17th, TEPCO presented a road map and tomorrow, on May 17th, its revised version will be presented.
At the same time, the government is also making preparations for presenting a roadmap of its own detailing what and when the state can do to help people living in shelters. I believe the roadmap will include most of your suggestions. The roadmap is designed to make it easier for survivors to have prospects of rebuilding their lives in the future. The government plans to disclose as much information as possible and present such prospects as well.
(Yasuo Tanaka) People have sent in billions of so-called monetary donations. Some say the amount exceeds 160 billion yen while others say it’s nearing 200 billion yen. I told you this at a budget committee on April 29th and I repeat it again. What people need is 100 thousand yen now, rather 300 thousand yen a few months later. Mr. Itsunori Onodera of the Liberal Democratic Party also mentioned that in a Yomiuri Shinbun article.
That’s why I’ve been calling for the introduction of Basic Income. I did that the last time as well. Payment should be made per person, not per household. The amount of money each family needs is different, depending on whether it’s a family of two or a family of five. I believe the state should provide 100 thousand yen in basic income every month, for instance, for over 6 months time not just to people living in areas exposed to radiation but to everyone living in the hard-hit regions. I believe Basic Income will help survivors voluntarily move out of shelters, find jobs and places to live.
Last Friday, on April 13th, a TEPCO compensation support plan with a very long title was released. It’s called, ‘ Framework for the government to help the Tokyo Electric Power Company pay compensation for the damage caused by the Fukushima nuclear power plant, operated by the company.’ But I understand the measure hasn’t yet received a cabinet approval. It’s a decision made at a meeting of related ministers in charge of dealing with economic damage caused by the nuclear accident. That means, all the contents are revisable. That’s my understanding. Am I correct?
(Banri Kaieda)I’m the minister of economy, trade and industry. But I’m also assigned by the prime minister to deal with the economic damage caused by the disaster, so let me respond to Mr. Tanaka in that capacity.
As Mr. Tanaka pointed out, the decision was made at a related ministerial meeting. So naturally, the framework needs to be put together into a bill which needs cabinet approval before being presented at the diet.
(Yasuo Tanaka) According to a Kyodo News survey announced yesterday, 66.5 percent of those polled are against an electricity price hike. Only 29.8 percent support it. 53 percent of the respondents believe the nuclear power plants should be downsized. 38.5 % believe no more nuclear power plants should be built other than the existing plants. That means 91.5 percent of those polled believe Japan should make an energy shift from nuclear power, because nuclear power plants will be decommissioned anyway in the future. Similar survey results are out from Mainichi Shinbun. Mr. Yasuhisa Siozaki will probably later make a similar proposal, but I strongly feel the need for the diet which has investigative authority to perform due diligence and to set up an independent commission not only to investigate but to make concrete proposals.
I should note that I’m not criticizing TEPCO. You see, Capitalism is a living creature. Coal companies also underwent industrial transformation. Teijin, Asahi Kasei, Tore and other chemical corporations also created various businesses and transformed themselves, with a spirit of the consumer-oriented in a good sense of the word. Now-defunct Nippon Gohsei is a household name and is now called JSR, Japan Synthetic Rubber. The company was established in 1957, one year after I was born. It was 40 percent owned by the state and was a company of national policy concern. But the company, as you know, now produces from synthetic rubber to semiconductors and even fine chemicals. It’s transformed itself.
Or, another examples may be Mainichi Shinbun, which I quoted earlier, and Bungei Shunju magazine, which you probably read. They also established a new company when they fell into their financial crisis. Former JNR, Japan National Railways, also established a settlement corporation and later became JR.
Why is the government trying to maintain only the framework of the Tokyo Electric Power Company? If the effort led to the collapse of Japan or if the nation got dragged into the pits because of the wrong effort, it would be a big mistake made by the government. As I said earlier, a scheme needs to be laid out based on due diligence I just explained a while ago. The issue should be dealt with, for the new and old TEPCOs separately. I do believe it’s very important.
Here, I wrote ‘Create a new Equation.’ I may sound a bit cheeky, but I believe ‘our society had faith in science and never doubted technology.’  But we are in the 21st century and we need to go beyond technologies by utilizing science.
It’s what we call ‘implicit, or tacit knowledge.’ By theory of probability, people may have been saying nuclear power generation is safe. But when something goes wrong, it can get incontrollable. It’s similar to terrorism or terrorists and is different from war. It’s a virus and not bacteria.
As you probably know, ‘implicit, or tacit knowledge’ was central to Michael Polanyi’s thinking that the belief creative acts are charged with strong personal feelings and commitments…. informed guesses, hunches and imaginings of human with brain that cannot be calculated in numbers or probability. I also believe the outcome of the polls I referred to earlier reflects that.
According to German sociologist Ulrich Beck, whom I referred to earlier, if other countries adhere to nuclear power, it’s rather a good opportunity for Germany to establish its supremacy in the new alternative energy market.
On April 20th, the Nikkei Shinbun wrote, Germany plans to shift 40 percent of its electricity to renewable energies by 2050. Britain also plans to build 7 thousand windmills to cover one third of its electricity with wind power generation. Even France which is a leading nuclear power has set forth guidelines to generate 23 percent of its electricity from renewable energies by 2020.
I believe Mr. Kan should clearly lay out plans for the future at the G8 Deauville summit in France. Otherwise, if the government plans to allow the reopen the Hamamatsu nuclear power plant when storm surge barriers are completed in two years time, Japan’s policy will rather be to maintain the status-quo or to confirm the status-quo. I’d like to hear from Mr. Kan what future energy policy Japan will pursue, now that the country has become the victimizer with nuclear power.
(Chairman) Time is up. Thank you, Mr. Tanaka. That concludes Mr. Tanaka’s questioning.