Editorial: Diet should pass Fukushima child victims' law and hold gov't responsible
Lawmakers in both the ruling and opposition parties are in the final stages of composing a draft bill supporting victims of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with an emphasis on providing support for children and pregnant women, who are said to be especially sensitive to radiation.
One of the pillars of the proposed legislation is the reduction or exemption of medical expenses for children and expecting mothers living in areas where radiation levels exceed a certain standard.
Many lives, especially those of Fukushima prefectural residents, have been turned upside down due to the nuclear disaster. A large number of people not under government orders to evacuate have done so anyway on their own volition, with many families being torn apart. The anguish of parents with young children, in particular, is immeasurable.
As local residents agonize over the lack of progress in decontamination efforts and any guarantees of health and food safety in the coming years, they face a basic question: will the national government continually enforce the measures and policies they seek?
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TECPO), the operator of the stricken Fukushima power plant, is proceeding with its compensation payments to disaster victims based on guidelines set by the science ministry's Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation. However, payment of damages alone does not compensate for the victims' true suffering.
The bill currently being drafted aims to spell out the responsibility of the national government for its promotion of nuclear power, and mandate the government's continuous support of disaster victims. A lifetime guarantee of health exams for children who have lived in designated areas, as well as the provision of opportunities for children actually living in designated areas to spend time in nature far from Fukushima are also expected to be incorporated into the bill.
The Chernobyl Law established in the former Soviet Union in 1991, five years after the nuclear disaster outbreak at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, stipulated that residents in areas with annual radiation exposure of 1 millisievert or higher had "the right to relocation," and even today, are guaranteed medical care. Furthermore, residents living in such highly contaminated locations are offered long-term rehabilitation in facilities located in non-contaminated areas. Japanese lawmakers seem to have taken the Chernobyl Law into consideration in drafting their own bill.
The government will be required to assist evacuees and those who are returning to their hometowns after a period of evacuation to find school enrollment, employment, and homes, according to the bill. As Article 25 of the Constitution stipulates that "All people shall have the right to maintain the minimum standards of wholesome and cultured living," it is only natural for the government to take all necessary measures to ensure such lives for all people, whether or not they've had to evacuate as a result of the nuclear disaster.
There are, of course, details that still need to be worked out, such as the question of what constitutes "a certain level" of radiation. The degree to which the victims' medical fees will be reduced also remains unclear, and will depend heavily on the state of government coffers.
However, the establishment of a legal mandate protecting the health and rights of the children of Fukushima is significant. The legislators involved in drafting the bill are considering setting up a non-partisan consultative body to check on the law's implementation after enactment to ensure that the principles behind it are not watered down.
Local municipalities in Fukushima are pressing hard for legislation like the one currently in the works. Let's hope that the ruling and opposition parties are able to cooperate toward its enactment in the current session of the Diet.
June 04, 2012(Mainichi Japan)