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[TOKYO] Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said on Friday it has nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including decommissioning and compensation, to 21.5 trillion yen (S$267.8 billion).
In 2013, the ministry had calculated the cost at 11 trillion yen. The new government projection calls for 7.9 trillion yen to be paid in reparations, compared with the earlier estimate of 5.4 trillion.
And twelve trillion yen will be needed for decontamination and to decommission the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi plant, operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), over the next four decades, more than double the 4.5 trillion forecast three years ago.
Storage units for contaminated soil will cost 1.6 trillion yen, 500 billion yen more than its earlier estimate, the ministry said in a statement.
"For now, we don't expect the costs to increase further, but new developments and unforeseen factors mean there is a chance they could go higher," Japan's Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry, Hiroshige Seko, said at a press conference in Tokyo.
"Decommissioning technological innovation and a speedier clean up could help reduce costs and it is important that we put effort into that," he added.
In what was the world's worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors melted at the plant after a magnitude 9 earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, triggering a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan's northeastern coastline, killing more than 15,000 people and shutting down reactor cooling at Fukushima.
Subsequent explosions released massive amounts of radiation, forcing the evacuation of 160,000 people from areas around the plant. Many of those residents are unlikely to ever return to their homes.
Spiralling costs resulting from the disaster are threatening the viability of Tepco, prompting the government to increase an interest-free loan to the utility by more than a third to 14 trillion yen, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.