Business operators that evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear disaster criticized plans to end compensation payments, citing the destruction of their normal bases of operation and the time needed to attract new clientele.
“It is premature to stop paying compensation,” said Ikuo Yamamoto, 56, who used to be a rice dealer in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, all of whose residents were forced to evacuate. He currently lives in Iwaki.
The central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, decided to terminate compensation for nuclear-related financial losses in fiscal 2016.
About 8,000 business operators that have left areas around the plant have received such payments over the four years until fiscal 2014.
Yosuke Takagi, state minister of economy, and TEPCO President Naomi Hirose explained the new compensation policy to local officials and business owners at a meeting June 7 in Fukushima city.
They said the government and TEPCO will pay compensation for an additional two years until fiscal 2016, and then end the lump-sum reparation payments.
They also stressed that intense support measures to rebuild businesses will be introduced over the coming two years to help affected business operators establish themselves without depending on compensation money.
However, municipal leaders called on TEPCO and the government to carefully consider the new policy.
Okuma Mayor Toshitsuna Watanabe said that business owners who have evacuated from the town must win new customers where they currently reside because most areas of Okuma are still designated in the difficult-to-return zone.
“I hope (the government and TEPCO) will provide generous assistance for reconstruction of local businesses on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
All residents of Naraha have also been forced to live outside the town since the nuclear disaster unfolded in March 2011.
Kumiko Hayakawa, 48, said she has yet to decide whether to reopen the beauty salon that she ran with her 74-year-old mother in Naraha, even though the evacuation order for the town is expected to be lifted by year-end.
“It is inappropriate for us to just rely on compensation for so long,” Hayakawa said. “But I suspect people may not return to the town, and I cannot make a decision (on restarting the salon).”
Masaki Yatsuhashi, 43, who used to run a bakery in Naraha, opened a bread shop in May in Iwaki, where he now resides.
Although he sold bread at a makeshift store near temporary housing in Iwaki after the nuclear accident, the business was always in the red.
Yatsuhashi said he decided to open a new bakery because he wanted to end his dependence on government assistance.
However, he said the business situation surrounding evacuees will not be completely restored even if Naraha residents are allowed to return to their homes.
“The damages from the disaster will not be repaired just in one or two years,” he said.