Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Japan's Nuclear Catastrophe Vicitms Seek Compensation

The Fukushima Daiichi plant catastrophe contaminated a broad circle of Japanese countryside and left hundreds of thousands of people without homes, jobs or both.  Victims of the nuclear crisis have filed about 20 lawsuits against plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co., according to the company. 

The vast majority of victims of the Fukushima accident turn to one of two other options, one led by Tepco, the other by the central government — the two institutions most often blamed for the nuclear accident. 

More than nine of 10 evacuees who say the disaster harmed them have taken their claims directly to Tepco. Those who don’t want to deal with Tepco or who reject the company’s compensation offer can head to a government-created mediation center, which was established by law after the nuclear accident. Neither route, legal experts say, offers victims much leverage.

Tepco’s average payout to individuals is $24,000, according to company data.  The company has agreed to give anyone who at the time of the accident was living within 12 miles of the plant — the forced-evacuation zone — monthly payments of $1,250 to $1,500 as compensation for “non-economic damage,” or mental anguish. No end date has been set for the payments.  Evacuees may also be reimbursed for hotel stays in the aftermath of the crisis — but only up to $100 per night (the company hasn’t specified a limit on the number of nights).

For victims who want to file lawsuits, options are limited. That’s because of a special Japanese nuclear-accident law, drafted 51 years ago, that limits liability to the plant operator, preventing claimants from targeting, say, reactor manufacturers such as Toshiba or General Electric.

Almost 120,000 individuals have applied directly to Tepco for the initial round of compensation.  The company has reached settlement agreements in 102,000 of those cases and has since sent out the second and third batches as well, covering additional damages. Tepco estimates that it will be responsible, in the end, for at least $32 billion in compensation. 

The government last month gave Tepco a $12 billion bailout, putting it under state control

Lawyers who run the Dispute Reconciliation Committee, the government center that mediates between victims and Tepco, say they are counting on the company to satisfy most of the claimants, if only because the center could be “paralyzed” if too many come to it for help.  Already, about 500 victims a month come to the center, which has offices in Tokyo and Fukushima and settles 30 to 70 cases a month. Officials expect it will take three to five years for most claims to be resolved. (Wash Post, 6/25/2012)

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