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TEPCO ordered to pay couple who ‘voluntarily’ fled Fukushima after nuclear disaster, asahi, 2/19/2016

original article:

KYOTO–The Kyoto District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay 30.46 million yen ($267,000) to a couple for mental illnesses the husband suffered following their “voluntary evacuation” from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The district court’s unprecedented ruling on Feb. 18 said the accident at TEPCO’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant contributed to the insomnia and depression the husband developed after his family fled Fukushima Prefecture in 2011.

Although the plaintiffs did not live in a government-designated evacuation zone around the plant, the court said evacuating voluntarily is “appropriate when the hazard from the accident and conflicting information remained.”

The ruling was the first to award damages to voluntary evacuees, according to a private group of lawyers involved in lawsuits against TEPCO and the central government over the nuclear disaster.

The man, who is in his 40s, his wife and three children were seeking a total of 180 million yen against TEPCO.

According to the ruling, the husband and wife had managed a company that operated restaurants in Fukushima Prefecture. The family fled their home a few days after the nuclear accident started in March 2011 and moved to Kyoto in may that year.

The court acknowledged the man suffered severe mental stress because he had to leave his hometown and quit his position as representative of the company.

TEPCO had paid a total of 2.92 million yen to the family based on the central government’s compensation standards for residents who evacuated on their own.

The utility argued that its payments were appropriate because they were based on guidelines set by a central government panel addressing disputes over compensation for nuclear accidents. The guidelines dictate uniform and fixed payments for residents who left areas outside designated evacuation zones.

However, the district court said these guidelines “simply show a list of damages that can be broken down and the scope of damages.”

The court concluded that compensation amounts should instead reflect the personal circumstances of evacuees in nuclear accident-related cases.

It ordered TEPCO to compensate the couple for the period through August 2012, when radiation levels dropped to a certain level and information on the nuclear accident became more stable and accurate.

Specifically, the court said the husband and wife are entitled to part of the monthly remuneration of 400,000 yen to 760,000 yen they had received each for having to suspend their business following the nuclear accident.

But the court dismissed the damage claims of the couple’s three children, saying their compensation was already covered by TEPCO’s payments.

About 10,000 evacuees are involved in 21 damages suits filed in Fukushima Prefecture, Tokyo, Osaka and elsewhere.

An estimated 18,000 people from Fukushima Prefecture are still living in voluntary evacuation, according to the prefectural government.

By YUTO YONEDA/ Staff Writer

‘Voluntary’ Fukushima evacuees denounce end of free housing, new assistance plan, asahi, 2/8/2016

original article:

The Fukushima prefectural government is maintaining its plan to terminate the free housing program for “voluntary” evacuees from the nuclear disaster despite a barrage of criticism and complaints expressed during an explanatory meeting.

Fukushima officials told the briefing session in Tokyo’s Nakano Ward on Feb. 7 that in April 2017, free housing will no longer be available to people who fled from homes located outside government-designated evacuation zones around the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Instead, the officials said, new assistance measures, including subsidies for moving and rent, will be offered.

Many of the 30 or so people in attendance, including evacuees, blasted the planned measures as insufficient.

“It just sounds like the prefectural government wants to make us return to the area as soon as possible and terminate the assistance,” one of them said. “Even though the nuclear accident has not yet come to an end, how can they say we should go back there?”

According to the prefectural government, about 6,000 households voluntarily evacuated to areas outside Fukushima Prefecture after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011. An estimated 5,700 voluntary evacuees were living in Tokyo in January this year.

Based on the Disaster Relief Law, the prefectural government has offered public housing and other free accommodations to nuclear evacuees regardless of whether their original homes were in state-designated evacuation zones.

The government is now moving to lift all evacuation orders around the nuclear plant except for certain areas where radiation levels are expected to remain high.

“We held discussions with the central government while taking the situation into consideration, and the central government agreed to extend the program to March next year,” a prefectural government official told the meeting. “It would be difficult to further extend the period.”

The new measures include up to 100,000 yen ($853) in subsidies for moving expenses, as well as preferential treatment in relocating to prefectural government-run housing.

For low-income households who continue to live in private apartments and other housing as evacuees, the prefecture will cover half the monthly rent up to 30,000 yen for the first year and one-third of the rent up to 20,000 yen for the second year.

“We cannot live with a subsidy of 30,000 yen,” one of the evacuees said at the meeting. “Do they understand the rent in Tokyo?”

A representative of Hinan Seikatsu o Mamoru Kai (group that protects evacuation life), which comprises evacuees living in areas around Tokyo, indicated that the proposed measures would put too much of a financial burden on many of the voluntary evacuees.

“Our biggest difficulty is the housing issue,” he said. “We strongly demand that the prefectural government withdraw the termination of the free housing program.”

Masaaki Matsumoto, chief of the prefectural government’s Evacuees Support Division, defended the plan and said the government does not intend to force evacuees to return home.

“The environment in Fukushima is being prepared for people to live in,” Matsumoto said. “By setting up the subsidy system, we also responded to those who want to continue their evacuation.”

By JUN SATO/ Staff Writer

Fukushima business owners at a loss over plan to terminate compensation, asahi, 6/8/2015

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.

Ministry plans to end TEPCO compensation to 55,000 Fukushima evacuees in 2018, asahi, 5/19/15


The government will instruct Tokyo Electric Power Co. to terminate compensation payments to 54,800 evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2018, regardless of radiation levels in their hometowns, sources said.

The new compensation plan of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is based on the assumption that decontamination work will lower radiation levels and enable the government to lift evacuation orders in those areas, the sources said May 18.

Currently, the homes of about 80,000 evacuees are located in three zones designated by the government in terms of severity of radiation contamination.

Around 31,800 evacuees’ homes are in “zones being prepared for the lifting of evacuation order,” while 23,000 people have fled their homes in what are now “no-residence zones.”

TEPCO currently pays each of these 54,800 evacuees 100,000 yen (about $834) in compensation a month.

The new plan will affect evacuees from these two zones.

The remaining 24,400 people have homes located in “difficult-to-return zones,” where there are no prospects of lifting the evacuation orders. TEPCO has paid a total of 14.5 million yen to each of these evacuees.

The government’s current guidelines on compensation stipulate that payments should end one year after evacuation orders are lifted.

Under the new plan, the government and ruling parties assume that the evacuation period for people in the first two zones will end “six years after the March 2011 nuclear accident.” That assumption is based on another assumption that decontamination work will be completed by March 2017 and evacuation orders can be called off by that time.

As a result, compensation payments for people from the two zones will end in March 2018. Each of the evacuees will have received a total of 8.4 million yen during the seven years since the accident started at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

The current compensation system allows evacuees to receive additional compensation payments if their evacuation periods are extended. Some critics say evacuees are hoping for a continuation of evacuation orders so that they can receive more money.

But the new plan will terminate compensation payments for the two zones in 2018 without exception. If the evacuation order is lifted five years after the nuclear accident, the evacuees from the area can still receive compensation for two more years, even though they are qualified for only one additional year under the current system.

Adoption of the new plan will make it easier for the government to work out support measures for people who return to their hometowns in the two zones, the sources said.

“The lifting of evacuation orders will proceed,” a government official said. “We will be able to construct houses and attract plants and firms (to the areas) more positively.”

However, it is not clear whether radiation levels will drop as expected by March 2018.

Even if evacuation orders remain in place because of delays in decontamination work, the compensation payments will still end in 2018 for the two zones, the sources said.

Manga gives real-life look at Fukushima plant workers in action, asahi, 4/26/2014

A manga that describes the reality of daily life at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant through the eyes of a worker is enjoying popularity.

“Ichiefu” (1F), written by Kazuto Tatsuta, 49, first appeared in autumn 2013 as a serial comic in the weekly magazine “Morning,” published by Kodansha Ltd. Ichiefu stands for the Fukushima No. 1 plant among locals.

The comic was published in book form on April 23. The publisher shipped a total of 150,000 copies of the first volume, which is an unusually large number for a little-known manga artist.

Tatsuta said he changed jobs repeatedly after graduating from university. At the same time, he also worked as a comic strip artist.

It was when he was considering another job change that the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami occurred, triggering the nuclear accident at the Fukushima plant.

While seeking a better-paying job, Tatsuta also wondered what part he could do as a citizen of Japan to help. As a result, he began to work at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant from June 2012 for a total of six months.

“Ichiefu” describes the situation at the plant in great detail. The descriptions of equipment, such as the masks and protective gear the workers used, and the procedures they took to measure radiation levels make readers feel as if they are there and reading actual worker manuals.

The comic also depicts intimate practices only workers there would know. For example, the workers always say “Be safe” to each other before starting their shifts.

Each of the workers was also required to stop working when his dosimeter issued a fourth warning sound.

“As a manga artist, I was interested in the overall atmosphere and scenery at the plant. But in those days, I was too busy working to do anything with it,” Tatsuta recalled.

When the amount of radiation he was exposed to reached the maximum annual limit after six months, he temporarily returned home to Tokyo. It was then that he decided to write the manga because what he was reading and hearing in the media about the situation at the plant was different from what he experienced and saw himself.

“The media were reporting that the workers in the plant were placed under miserable working conditions. But the working conditions there are not that different from those in other workplaces,” Tatsuta said. “In the compound (of the nuclear plant), workers eat meals and enjoy chatting (like those in other workplaces do).

“It was physically hard to work while wearing all the protective gear, though. That is because it was hot,” he added. “Besides I was not able to scratch my nose when it was itchy. And answering the call of nature or relieving oneself was a problem, so I refrained from drinking water as much as possible.”

Despite the tense working conditions depicted in the media, the descriptions of daily life presented by Tatsuta’s comic shows a much more easygoing atmosphere. Some readers who also worked at the plant sent messages to Tatsuta saying they felt nostalgic after reading his work.

At present, the serial comic still runs in the weekly magazine. After some time, however, he wants to work at the plant again.

“I have this growing feeling that I want to see the situation at the plant through to the end. Though I worked there for only six months, there were many drastic changes during that period,” Tatsuta said.

For example, a full face mask was initially necessary to wear in certain places. But (six months later when Tatsuta left), only a simple mask was sufficient there.

“Though we cannot currently see an end, the situation at the plant is making progress little by little. As a worker, I want to continue to be part of the process until workers like me are no longer necessary,” he added.


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