Media watch: Consumers will be paying for Tepco’s mistakes forever

On March 22, the Fukuoka District Court dismissed a lawsuit brought against the government by a regional electrical power company that claimed a surcharge added to all electricity bills nationwide to pay compensation to victims of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown in March 2011 is illegal. According to the Asahi Shimbun, the judge in the case ruled that compensation for the disaster should be “borne fairly by all electricity consumers.” The plaintiffs, Green Co-op Denki, a subsidiary of a Kyushu-based food cooperative that sells non-nuclear electrical power to co-op members in 16 prefectures, objected to the surcharge, which it is required to add to its electrical bills, by saying that it had been implemented via an order issued by the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) without Diet deliberation. The judge said that the order was “based on the opinions of experts and discussions in the Diet.” The plaintiff’s attorney rejected this opinion, saying that the judge was merely parroting the government’s claims. “The fact that anything can be allowed through a ministerial order without revising the law” contradicts the principles of parliamentary democracy, the attorney said. “I can’t accept that.”

However, the issue goes deeper, as outlined in earlier Asahi articles, and addresses the way the government allows former regional power monopolies to do whatever they want in order to retain their exclusive grip on the grid. 

Green Co-op launched its electricity business in 2016, 5 years after the Fukushima disaster, for the purpose of providing its 420,000 members with electricity that doesn’t use any nuclear power sources. Subscribers understand exactly where their electricity is coming from. However, Green Co-op has to use existing transmission lines to deliver their electricity, and those lines are owned and controlled by the former regional power monopolies, in their case, Kyushu Electric Power, which adds a fee to every electric bill, regardless of the service provider, called takusoryokin, or residential transmission fee. When Green Co-op examined this fee more closely they discovered that it incorporated a surcharge permitted by METI in 2017 and implemented in 2020 that is used to pay for compensating the victims of the Fukushima disaster. 

Green Co-op has to collect this surcharge, and while it believes that victims of the Fukushima tragedy should definitely be compensated “as soon as possible,” according to the Nuclear Power Damage Compensation Law, the state’s only role in the process of compensation is to assist the company involved in the accident—in this case Tokyo Electric Power Company, or Tepco—in paying compensation by providing no-interest loans. There is nothing in the law that says Japan can pass on this compensation to consumers nationwide. 

For Green Co-op the matter goes further, since the overall transmission fee in essence supports the nuclear power industry as represented by the regional power companies that control the transmission lines, thus contradicting the Co-op’s mission as an alternative energy provider. According to Asahi Shimbun, the transmission fee can account for as much as 30 percent of a household’s monthly electricity bill, which, at the moment, is extremely expensive due to higher fuel costs. METI has said that the compensation surcharge is very small and amounts to only about ¥18 yen per monthly bill. However, the surcharge will be collected for at least the next 40 years and, depending on the progress of the cleanup and whether any new lawsuits are filed by victims, will probably increase. Total compensation paid so far amounts to ¥2.4 trillion, but future projectiions inflate the compensation to as much as ¥7.9 trillion. The government is already paying this compensation to victims. The surcharge is collected by the regional transmission line owners, which then pass it on to Tepco, which then uses it to pay back the government. However, it’s not clear how much of it is actually going back to the government in the end. 

Consumer groups in general, and not just Green Co-op, have been scandalized by the compensation system, especially after METI justified it by saying that everyone in Japan “benefits from nuclear power.” A representative of Green Co-op told Asahi that it is dead set against charging members for something that supports the nuclear power industry, and that Tepco should pay for its own mistakes with its own profits. Of course, even if that were the case, in the end, Tepco always finds a way to pass on any of its costs to users, which is why it and other regional power companies have to hold on to their transmission line monopolies. As long as they control the means of delivery, no electrical power startup, regardless of how well-meaning it is or how it produces energy, has much of a chance. 

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