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Most mayors of disaster-hit Fukushima areas urge review of compensation guidelines: survey

Residents of the Nagadoro district of the Fukushima Prefecture village of Iitate, designated as a "difficult-to-return-to-zone," cut grass in this file photo taken in Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, on July 15, 2012. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

FUKUSHIMA -- Over 80 percent of mayors of municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture that have been heavily affected by the nuclear disaster say the guidelines for compensation related to damages from the 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO)'s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station need to be reviewed, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has found.

Some of the reasons cited by 28 of the 33 mayors polled include a series of rulings that have favored those seeking damages in lawsuits and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) proceedings that exceeded amounts set by the guidelines, and the fact that the guidelines "do not fit reality." The mayors believe that a revision of the guidelines based on on-site investigations will lead to the provision of relief to damage incurred as a whole.

The guidelines were set in August 2011 by the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, which is under the umbrella of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, for damages resulting from the nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The guidelines were augmented four times by December 2013, but no fundamental changes have been made.

The Mainichi survey was carried out in February of this year, aimed at the mayors of 33 municipalities -- 12 designated as "evacuation-ordered zones" and 21 designated as "voluntary evacuation zones." All 33 mayors responded, of which 28 said that a review of the compensation guidelines was necessary, two said such a review was unnecessary, and three responded "other." Of the mayors who said that a guideline review was needed, nine mayors -- or over 70 percent -- preside over "evacuation-ordered zones," while 19 mayors -- or approximately 90 percent -- are mayors of "voluntary evacuation zones."

Asked why they feel a compensation guideline review is necessary, Kazuhiro Yoshida, mayor of the town of Namie, the majority of which is still under evacuation orders, responded, "The compensation amounts outlined in the guidelines are not commensurate with the actual damage, and it is clear that it does not cover the pain and suffering experienced by the victims." After 70 percent of the town's residents collectively filed for ADR, a draft settlement suggested a compensation amount across the board that exceeded that recommended by the guidelines. The ADR proceedings were shut down, however, with TEPCO's refusal to settle. Now the case has gone to the courts.

Mayor Shiro Izawa of the town of Futaba, which is still under evacuation orders in its entirety, points out that "Reviewing the guidelines with the mindset that 'there is damage that all victims have in common' will lead to providing them relief," keeping in mind the fact that court rulings and ADR settlements are recommending compensation amounts that far exceed the amounts suggested in the guidelines.

"Even after the evacuation orders have been lifted, our town has not returned to the environment prior to the nuclear disaster," Koichi Miyamoto, mayor of the town of Tomioka, where most evacuation orders have been lifted, said. He directed his comment toward the science and technology ministry's Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, which lays down the guidelines. "We want (the committee) to periodically inspect areas where evacuation orders have been lifted to see what the situation is currently like."

Hiroshi Kohata, mayor of the city of Fukushima, the prefectural capital, where ADR proceedings filed collectively by it residents also fell through due to TEPCO's refusal to pay the settlement recommended by the ADR center, said he sought "a review (of the guidelines) that is based on an understanding of the current situation, and is timely and appropriate."

Of the two mayors who responded to the survey that a review was unnecessary, Mayor Norio Kanno of the village of Iitate, which was at one time entirely under evacuation orders, explained the reasoning behind his response as being "the great confusion that could result among residents if a review were to take place." Yukiei Matsumoto, the mayor of the village of Naraha, which was likewise entirely forced to evacuate at one point, said, "The guidelines are merely a rough guide, and individual cases should be resolved through lawsuits and ADR."

That the majority of the 33 mayors so strongly seek a review of the guidelines comes against a backdrop of dissatisfaction toward TEPCO, which has continued to refuse paying compensation amounts ordered by court rulings or recommended through ADR proceedings that exceed the guidelines.

"The survey results show that many mayors recognize that collective lawsuits and collective ADRs are more effective in providing relief to all victims, instead of compensation to individuals, which is on a much smaller scale," says attorney Izutaro Managi, who heads the secretariat for attorneys representing Fukushima residents filing the largest lawsuit in Japan against TEPCO for damages. "The Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation should immediately get to work on reviewing the guidelines."

(Japanese original by Toshiki Miyazaki, Fukushima Bureau)

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