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Japan's METI seeks bigger budget for nuke cleanup

TOKYO, Aug. 30 — Japan's Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) said Friday it is seeking to secure a budget for fiscal 2014 of 1.75 trillion yen (about 17.81 billion U.S. dollars), earmarked for decontamination work and the eventual decommissioning of the stricken Daiichi nuclear facility in Fukushima Prefecture.

Japan's trade minister Toshimitsu Motegi told a press conference Friday that the envisioned budget is to expedite decontamination processes at the crisis-hit nuclear facility in Japan's northeast, so the plant's reactors can eventually be decommissioned and Fukushima Prefecture "rebuilt."

Motegi also stated that the government is doing everything it can to contain the latest crisis at the nuclear site, involving a tank leaking more than 300 tons of radioactive water in the Pacific Ocean.

He said that extra funding has been accessed for the government to manage the leak and help the embattled plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), to store massive amounts of toxic water that is accumulating on a daily basis and being stored in tanks that are at near-capacity on the site.

The Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) and the Cabinet Office are also seeking funds to the tune of 88 billion yen to bolster regulatory practices and ongoing nuclear disaster-related endeavors, with a percentage of the budget earmarked for investigations into the exact cause of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami-triggered disaster at the Daiichi nuclear facility.

The NRA also plans to increase its workforce through the extra funding, due to an increased workload following the latest crisis and in line with regulations introduced in July.

Overall budget requests from all ministries and agencies have risen above 100 trillion yen for the second straight year, officials here said Friday.

In advance of increased government revenue from a planned doubling of the nation's sales tax in two stages to 10 percent, ministries and agencies requested larger budgets, prompted in part by no cap on budget requests being stipulated by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, officials here said.

The Ministry of Finance will likely trim the requests, however, as public spending has to be reined in for Japan to achieve its goal of reducing its fiscal debt, the worst in the industrialized world at more than twice the size of Japan's economy.

The Japanese government will draft a state budget in December for the next fiscal year, but Finance Minister Taro Aso pointed out that fiscal consolidation and economic expansion is a tricky tightrope for the government to walk.

"It's difficult to handle the budget, while simultaneously pursuing economic growth and fiscal rehabilitation," Aso told a news conference Friday. (PNA/Xinhua)

CTB/RSM

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