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Japan's Diet enacts record 97.45 tril. yen budget for FY 2017

Japan's parliament on Monday enacted a record 97.45 trillion yen
($880 billion) budget for fiscal 2017 to cover swelling social
security costs, enhance defense capabilities and rejuvenate the
deflation-hit economy.

The enactment of the budget comes as the Japanese economy
struggles to pick up further strength amid sluggish private
consumption.

During upper house deliberations, the administration of Prime
Minister Shinzo Abe was shaken by questions about influence-peddling
in a cut-price land deal.

Controlled by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic
Party and Komeito, the House of Councillors passed the budget
following approval by its budget committee earlier in the day. The
more powerful House of Representatives had cleared the budget on Feb.
27.

For the fiscal year starting Saturday, 32.47 trillion yen, or
roughly a third of the total expenditure, is earmarked for social
security costs, including pensions and medical expenses.

As Abe has been seeking to bolster Japan's defense against
China's maritime assertiveness and North Korea's missile and nuclear
threats, defense spending will increase to a record 5.13 trillion
yen, marking the fifth straight yearly rise.

Excluding debt-servicing costs, a record 73.93 trillion yen is
allocated for policy spending in the general account.

For heavily indebted Japan, achieving both economic growth and
fiscal reconstruction is an urgent task.

The country has vowed to turn its deficit in the primary balance
into a surplus by fiscal 2020 but chances are slim the goal will be
attained based on current projections.

For fiscal 2017, tax revenue is estimated at 57.71 trillion yen,
up 108.0 billion yen from the fiscal 2016 initial budget, while new
bond issuance is estimated at 34.37 trillion yen, down 62.2 billion
yen from a year ago.

The country's dependence on debt in fiscal 2017 will be reduced
slightly to 35.3 percent. (March 27)

Gov't proposes reusing Fukushima's decontaminated soil on green land

The Environment Ministry on Monday proposed reusing
decontaminated soil from disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture as
landfill for parks and green areas.

At a meeting of an advisory panel, the ministry also called for
launching a new organization to map out plans on how to gain public
understanding about the reuse of decontaminated soil, ministry
officials said.

The proposals come at a time when Fukushima Prefecture faces a
shortage of soil due to the decontamination work following the 2011
nuclear meltdown.

At the meeting of experts on radioactivity, the ministry
presented a plan under which decontaminated soil will be reused only
on green land and not in residential areas. The decontaminated soil
will be used to fill in areas of depressed land and vegetation will
be planted on it.

Last year, the ministry decided to use the soil -- containing
radioactive cesium of between 5,000 and 8,000 becquerels per kilogram
or lower -- in public projects such as building coastal levees and
roads across the country.

But it remains unclear whether such reuse of decontaminated soil
will proceed smoothly as some residents affected by the projects may
oppose the plans.

The ministry is now considering using the soil containing cesium
with stricter standards so that workers and residents living around
the area would be exposed to less than 1 millisieverts per year. (March 27)