Japan disaster budget given to nuclear operator
A Japanese police vehicle moves carefully past homes destroyed by a tsunami in Rikuzentakata, on March 14, 2011. Money set aside to help earthquake, tsunami and nuclear victims has been allocated to power companies, officials in Japan said, a move that could fuel fury among people who lost their homes.
About 10 billion yen ($100 million) of the 25 trillion yen pledged for disaster recovery over several years has been reserved to offset costs for utility companies that were ordered to shut nuclear power plants in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.
The news comes after it was revealed public cash had been used in areas seemingly unaffected by the natural catastrophe, including on beefing up security for Japan's controversial whale hunt and on paying people to count turtles.
Officials said Friday that around 2 billion yen had already been given to Chubu Electric Power to help it make interest payments on bank loans taken out to fund the spiralling cost of fossil fuels.
Power companies had to ramp up their fuel imports to replace the power generation capacity lost when nuclear plants were shuttered.
Money was also used to provide heated water to local aquaculture facilities, which had previously received warm water from nuclear power plants, they said.
"The funds were meant to help utility companies cope with higher operating costs when the government ordered them to suspend nuclear reactors," said a ministry official.
Currently all but two of Japan's 50 nuclear reactors are mothballed, awaiting the greenlight over new safety standards and in the face of public unease about a once-trusted technology.
"Prime Minister (Shinzo) Abe has ordered a re-examination of how the disaster budget is used, including the fund for utility firms," said the ministry official, adding part of the monies should be returned to state coffers.
The remaining 8 billion yen has also been allocated to power companies but has not yet been disbursed.
While there is no suggestion of corruption, the admissions are an embarrassment for the Japanese government and are likely to compound the impression among the public that the country's nuclear industry is in cahoots with the state.
Earlier this month the Asahi Shimbun, a major daily newspaper, reported it had surveyed local authorities around the country to find out what had happened to the 200 billion yen (around $2 billion) Tokyo set aside in 2011 for job creation after the disaster.
It said 108.5 billion yen was spent in 38 prefectures that were outside the stricken northeast, where 97 percent of people employed with the help of the money were not evacuees from the disaster zone.
In a town in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima, around 1,300 kilometres (800 miles) from the devastated city of Ishinomaki, three million yen was spent on the protection and observation of sea turtles.
Ten people were employed to count the creatures as they came ashore and to remind sightseers not to interfere with them.
More than 18,000 people died when the towering tsunami smashed into Japan's northeast in March 2011.
Vast stretches of coastline were devastated and hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless in the catastrophe, which also set off a nuclear crisis at Fukushima.
Factories and farmland were put out of action, generating widespread unemployment that persists more than two years after the disaster.
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