There is a story about the Fukushima nuclear disaster that is not being told … until now. We know that almost 16,000 people were killed by the devastating tsunami and have heard the painful stories of hundreds of thousands of people who lost their homes and their livelihoods after the release of radiation from the stricken nuclear power plant. We haven’t heard much, however, about the hundreds of thousands who also lost a large portion of their savings.
To tell this story, we have just released the report, Toxic Assets: nuclear assets in the 21st century. In it we expose the scale of financial losses and the failure of financial advisors to make it clear to investors that nuclear plants are risky investments.
Individual shareholders hold more than half of the shares of TEPCO, the owner of the Fukushima plant. The number of individual shareholders has dropped significantly since the disaster; we see that probably hundreds of thousands were forced to cash in their shares at a huge loss because TEPCO’s share price collapsed after the disaster.
The impact on shareholders, however, has gone beyond TEPCO investors both in Japan and many other countries. Individual investors in other Japanese electricity utilities have also seen their investments melt. In addition, investors in Japanese mutual life insurance companies, among the largest shareholders and creditors of utilities with nuclear plants, lost money. People still holding on to these nuclear assets may lose even more; the industry ministry has said nuclear utility losses could nearly double from 1.5 trillion yen to 2.7 trillion this year.
The Japanese people will likely bear the brunt of most of these losses either as taxpayers, or as individual shareholders or as life insurance members.
The Japan Center for Economic Research has estimated the massive losses of the Fukushima clean-up at between 5.7 and 20 trillion yen (US$72 to 250 billion). Those losses are eight to 27 times higher than the 734 billion yen replacement value of all TEPCO’s nuclear reactors or 22 to 78 times more than TEPCO`s current market capitalisation.
In fact, final loss figures for the Fukushima disaster will likely be much higher than the total of US$71billion for the insured losses of in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
These investors who lost so much money received very little useful advice from their investment advisors over the risks of investing in TEPCO and other utilities that own nuclear power plants or in technology companies selling nuclear equipment.
Instead, these investors heard nothing but high ratings and bullish recommendations about TEPCO from supposedly savvy financial advisors and ratings agencies. Instead of fulfilling their responsibilities, advisors ignored or hid from investors the warnings about the tsunami risks endangering the Fukushima reactors, the many alarm signals about the inherent risks of the GE Mark I design and the list of scandals, cover-ups and collusions about how TEPCO was maintaining its nuclear reactors for decades.
Investors also trusted the nuclear industry, especially its arguments about the low probabilities of meltdowns and other nuclear accidents. But even these assumptions are being increasingly questioned by both energy risk experts and the US Government Accountability Office.
More than 780 nuclear incidents and accidents have been reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s monitoring system since 1990 and as plants age, that number will increase, heightening investment risk. Financial advisors should be telling their clients about these risks.
So before you invest in a humble-looking regional utility or a cool equipment manufacturer, check out if there is a nuclear plant or a nuclear vendor in the mix. And if you`re already stuck with their toxic shares, exercise your shareholder rights and push your company in the right direction – to divesting out of nukes and into renewable energy. The historic crossover between the costs of nuclear plants and solar PV has already happened.
In Japan, shareholders and creditors will have ample occasions to make such a push with the upcoming annual shareholder meetings towards the end of this month. Now is your chance!
Gyorgy Dallos is a Senior Energy Investments Advisor for Greenpeace International