by Jan Haverkamp
May 16, 2012
Last week, the inevitable finally happened. The company responsible for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, has been nationalised. Japan’s trade and industry minister Yukio Edano announced a de facto state take-over of the company with a further injection of $12.5bn, bringing the total of state capital in TEPCO to $33.2bn. Edano has said that: “Without the state funds, (TEPCO) cannot provide a stable supply of electricity and pay for compensation and decommissioning costs”.
The Fukushima Daiichi catastrophe has cost TEPCO over $100bn in estimated costs, which includes compensation and clean-up costs. However, the actual costs are much bigger. Many Japanese are bearing the brunt of the damages in their daily lives with most of their claims and losses going uncompensated and most of their suffering unrecognised.
The nationalisation of TEPCO, together with a legal practice called “channelling of liability” in which all liability related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster has to be channelled to TEPCO, means Japanese taxpayers and ratepayers will foot most of the bill.
An infuriating aspect of this story is that in a recent presentation by General Electric (GE) about its “success” over the past 50 years, there was not a word about the Fukushima disaster and nothing approaching an apology. Yet the Fukushima disaster was affected by well-known problems related to GE’s Mark 1 design, which was used at all four troubled reactors. Furthermore, GE was involved in maintenance throughout the four decades of the plant’s operation and had 44 on site at the time of the accident.
GE, together with its corporate mates from Hitachi, which is responsible for the construction of Fukushima Daiichi Unit 4, and Toshiba, which delivered Reactor No. 3, as well as Ebasco, Kajima, Areva and many others, have mostly kept mum about their involvement.
The Prime Minister orders venting
Prime Minister Naoto Kan had to order venting the day after the disaster. Without venting the containment might have given way to the rising pressure, which is a problem identified 30 years ago by several GE whistleblowers. It was not easy to give the order. Workers would risk potentially lethal doses of radiation and the evacuation around Fukushima had not even started. Venting would expose thousands of people to radiation, but the alternative of an exploding reactor would create even more havoc. TEPCO, GE, Hitachi, and Toshiba knew that this could happen. Not one of them ever demanded the closure of the reactors. By closing their eyes to their obviously faulty product they have spread the impression that people are safe.