Photo/IllutrationWork is under way to clean out debris at the No. 1 reactor building of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in February. (Pool)

  • Photo/Illustraion

In a startling disparity, a private think tank puts the cost of addressing the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster between 35 trillion yen and 81 trillion yen ($315 billion and $728 billion), compared with the government estimate of 22 trillion yen.

The calculation, by the Tokyo-based Japan Center for Economic Research, showed that the total could soar to at least 60 percent more and up to 3.7 times more than the 2016 estimate by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

In releasing the latest estimates on March 7, the center said it is time for serious debate over the role nuclear energy should play in the nation’s mid- and long-term energy policy.

Of the highest price tag of 81 trillion yen, 51 trillion yen would go toward decommissioning the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and treating and disposing of radioactive water. The ministry put the cost for these tasks at 8 trillion yen.

The center calculated the compensation to victims at 10 trillion yen, while the comparable estimate by the ministry was 8 trillion yen.

Although the center’s estimate for the decontamination operation was 20 trillion yen, the ministry’s projection was 6 trillion yen.

The biggest disparity in the estimates between the think tank and the ministry is that the former put the treatment and disposal of contaminated water at 40 trillion yen and included the cost for disposing of polluted soil produced during cleanup operations in the overall costs.

If contaminated water is released in the sea after it is diluted with water, the overall costs could be 41 trillion yen, including 11 trillion yen estimated for decommissioning and disposal for tainted water.

The least expensive way of coping with the accident--35 trillion yen--would be to encase the plant in a concrete sarcophagus, rather than undertaking the formidable challenge of retrieving melted nuclear fuel from the reactors, and releasing contaminated water into the sea. In this case, it would cost 4.3 trillion yen to close down the plant and dispose of the radioactive water.

But this scenario drew fire from residents in the affected municipalities as they view covering nuclear fuel debris with a massive structure would be tantamount to asking them to give up hope of eventually returning to their hometowns.

The center’s latest projections followed its estimates two years ago, in which the number varied from 50 trillion yen to 70 trillion yen.

It updated its projections based on the findings about treatment and disposal of radioactive water and progress in cleanup operations over the past years.