Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, has started the procedure of accepting applications for compensation from people who were evacuated because of the nuclear disaster.
Five months have passed since the utility began to pay provisional compensation of 1 million yen (about $13,055) per family to the evacuees. The process of paying the compensation must move as quickly as possible.
However, many problems with the way the utility is dealing with compensation are already emerging.
Firstly, the procedure for submitting compensation claims is too troublesome and complicated. The utility has distributed volumes of documents--a 160-page booklet explaining procedures and a 60-page-long claim form--to each of the 60,000 families that may be eligible.
The scores of technical terms contained in these documents only make entering a compensation claim more difficult. Many elderly evacuees say it is a tall order.
The town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, has refused to allow TEPCO to hold a meeting to explain the procedures to residents.
The company must not forget the basic principle that it should be putting itself in the shoes of the victims when designing its compensation system. In a Sept. 21 news conference, the utility apologized and promised to increase the number of advisers available to help evacuees make claims.
But it should be doing more to make the procedures themselves easier.
There are other factors that are increasing the burden on the evacuees. The receipts and other documents that must be attached to claim forms are supposed to be originals. That means they cannot be kept for other purposes.
This round of compensation payments covers losses incurred by the end of August. TEPCO's document says that a claim concerning one item can only be made once for each period covered. After submitting a claim, an evacuee receives a sample of an agreement on compensation payment from the utility. It stipulates that the claimant is not allowed to make any complaint or additional claim.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which provides support to victims of the nuclear disaster, has pointed out these problems and urged evacuees to seek advice from legal experts by taking advantage of free counseling sessions organized by local bar associations. We urge TEPCO to improve the situation and call for additional support from experts.
Evacuees are also raising questions and voicing complaints about the proposed compensation payments. One issue that has been raised is the proposed amount of compensation for psychological damage suffered by victims.
According to the interim compensation guidelines formulated by a government panel of experts, each evacuee will receive 100,000 yen per month for psychological suffering, or 120,000 yen per month for any period they spent in an evacuation center, for the first six months and 50,000 yen for each subsequent month.
The panel said the amount is reduced because the inconveniences evacuees have to endure in their daily lives are lessened as they move to temporary housing. However, many evacuees say the emotional strain on them becomes greater the longer they have to stay away from home. After leaving evacuation centers, victims have to pay all their daily expenses out of their own pockets.
Although drops in income due to loss of employment are compensated for, it is clear that the compensation guidelines should be revised.
The panel on compensation held its first meeting in one and a half months on Sept. 21.
There are still many tasks ahead. The panel has confirmed the need for compensation for people in areas outside the government's evacuation zone who evacuated voluntarily and for declines in the value of real estate and other property inside the evacuation zone.
However, it has yet to work out specific guidelines for such payments.
We urge the panel to start working on these and other tasks and to show flexibility in considering revisions of the interim compensation guidelines.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Sept. 22