New guidelines on nuclear mishap indemnity expands scope of coverage

A government panel mediating disputes over nuclear damage compensation finalized an additional set of proposals on Dec. 20 for revising its "interim guidelines" for state indemnification standards, calling for a greater expansion of the scope of damages coverage associated with the 2011 nuclear accident at Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.'s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi plant. In its fifth additional package of recommendations, the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation proposed that up to 2.5 million yen per person be paid to the people who are judged to have been affected by "transfigurations of their living infrastructure (hometowns)" as a result of a long period of evacuation. The committee, which operates under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, also called for payments of 300,000 yen per person to those who suffered from the "cruel evacuation conditions" created immediately after the accident. TEPCO is set to reveal the details of its additional indemnity plans in January based on the latest guidelines. ■TEPCO to present details in January It was the committee's first review of the interim guidelines in nine years since December 2013 and is expected to cover some 1.36 million people. Of the residents affected by the "transfigurations of living infrastructure," the committee proposed that 2.5 million yen per person be paid to those living in what were once designated as the residence restriction areas and preparatory zones for the lifting of an evacuation order. It took a long time for evacuation orders to be eventually removed in both. In addition, 500,000 yen per person was recommended for the residents of the areas that were designated as the emergency evacuation preparatory areas for a certain period in the wake of the nuclear disaster. The "difficult-to-return zone," still in place to restrict entry, was reclassified as a "loss of living infrastructure" area. The committee proposed 300,000 yen per person for the people who experienced the "cruel evacuation conditions" -- or the residents who lived within a 20-kilometer radius of the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) plant and an 8-km radius of the Fukushima Daini (No. 2) plant when the accident occurred. In so doing, the panel recognized the mental anguish they suffered from health concerns caused by staying in areas where they were exposed to considerable doses of radiation for certain periods. The government panel's recommendations for compensation coverage also expanded to those who were living in the 23 municipalities where voluntary evacuations were recommended. All the people would now be eligible to receive damages if they lived there during the period between the time of the disaster and December 2011 -- not just the residents in those cities, towns and villages who were there during the "immediate period" that followed the accident triggered by the March 11, 2011 earthquake-tsunami disaster. Similar mental and health concerns caused by radiation were taken into account for the expansion. These residents would be compensated regardless of whether they were actually evacuated or not -- except for the children and pregnant women who had been given priority in the compensation scheme. In March 2022, the Supreme Court upheld the high court rulings in seven collective lawsuits that favored damages payments in excess of the amounts specified by the government panel's previous interim guidelines. This led to fresh ideas for reviewing and re-categorizing compensation cases. The panel also adopted new standards based on a track record of settlements at the initiatives of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center. Takashi Uchida, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo who chairs the committee, said, "We have been able to achieve our objectives to a certain degree from the viewpoint of drawing up compensation standards that are closer to the sufferers' side." Uchida said there could be possible cases of divergences between damages amounts proposed in his panel's new guidelines and those agreed on in settlements to be reached under the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) system, but noted it can be made up. He made clear that there is no release and discharge, or waiver, clause in the ADR system, “so damages can be sought anew should such a difference arise." He also indicated cases will be handled individually in out-of-court settlements if court-ruled compensation amounts fall short of the recommendations mentioned in the guidelines. TEPCO President Tomoaki Kobayakawa told reporters in Tokyo the same day that the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plants will do its utmost to draw up additional compensation plans. "We would like to present the content (of the additional compensation package) in January by working to the best of our capabilities. Some parts of it will take time, but we will work on them as quickly as possible." ■Southern areas to be covered as well: TEPCO head Kobayakawa said TEPCO intends to consider covering the southern part of Fukushima Prefecture and the Miyagi Prefecture town of Marumori in the utility's additional compensation scheme although they were not included in the latest guidelines for the people in the municipalities where voluntary evacuations were recommended. His comments came after a request to do so from the ruling coalition -- the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito -- as well as the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on Dec. 20. Kobayakawa briefed them on TEPCO's track record of voluntary compensation payments to residents in these areas left out of the guidelines and noted a plan to respond in the same way. He did not specify how much would be paid, but the company is expected to decide around the idea of paying 100,000 yen per person -- half the amount for those in the areas covered. "We don't think of the guidelines working as the ceiling for compensation," Kobayakawa said in response to a reporter's question. "We have just received advice from the national government, and we take it seriously." (Translated by Kyodo News)