Market News

 August 25, 2014
Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste

 Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.

The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The decision came after landowners insisted that the land should be bought at a fair market value because the current appraisals are much lower than pre-disaster estimates.

Consent from local governments is expected to move forward the central government's plan to start transporting radioactive soil and other contaminated waste to the storage site in January.

Okuma and Futaba host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The residents of the two towns are still living as evacuees due to high levels of radiation in their hometowns.

Talks between local officials and the central government over the planned facility reached an impasse after Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara enraged landowners with a comment in June.

"In the end, it will come down to money," Ishihara said, referring to efforts to gain local approval for the storage facilities. Residents were angry because of the implication they could be easily bought.

The stalemate threatened to jeopardize the entire decontamination operation in the prefecture since the storage site is indispensable to advance the work to clean up and rebuild the affected communities.

In an effort to break the stalemate, the central government on Aug. 8 offered to double the funds to be provided to the local governments to 301 billion yen ($2.9 billion).

The remaining hurdle was how to shoulder the difference between the appraisal prices before and after the nuclear disaster to meet the landowners' request.

Central and local government officials wanted the matter settled by Sept. 3, when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to announce a new Cabinet lineup.

There is a growing speculation that Ishihara will be replaced in the reshuffle, due in part to his controversial remarks.

A senior Environment Ministry official apparently thought that Ishihara's departure would mean a delay of at least a month in negotiations. A new central government team needs to be briefed on the background and current status of the project before picking up where Ishihara left off.

The prefectural government decided to settle the talks ahead of the Cabinet reshuffle by picking up the tab for the difference in land appraisal rather than pushing for an additional offer from the central government.

"It will be difficult for us to get further concessions from the central government," a prefectural official said. "Starting the talks all over again is also totally unacceptable."

Officials of Okuma and Futaba welcomed the prefectural government's decision to pay the difference from its own coffers.

Fukushima Governor Yuhei Sato is expected to meet the mayors on Aug. 25 to formally convey the decision.

The prefectural government is likely to officially announce its acceptance of the construction of the interim storage facility by Sept. 2.

The central government is set to enter negotiations with landowners as early as next month over the purchase.