Fukushima Evacuees Meet Red Tape, ‘Sponger’ Web Attack

Fukushima Evacuees Run Into Tepco Red Tape
Masaki Otsuka stands in his temporary housing unit in Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Less than half of the evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear crisis have filed for compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Co. because the application forms are too complex, a survey shows.

One year after the nuclear disaster, 57 percent of Fukushima evacuees still haven’t applied, according to the survey by the government-backed Nuclear Damage Liability Facilitation Fund. Applicants had difficulty in understanding the forms, according to the survey made public on March 8.

The survey revives criticism of the power utility from September when it sent out 60,000 compensation packages, including a 56-page claim form to be filled in by each applicant and a 156-page booklet to explain the claim form.

Inquiries to a government help center about compensation claims almost doubled to 260 in December from a month earlier, according to a Jan. 30 report from the help center. Futaba Town in the no-go zone around the Fukushima plant has issued its own claim forms to help residents appeal to the dispute center.

“In direct negotiations, Tepco insists on its compensation rules and make no concessions,” the report said. “There is a growing trend that Tepco refuses compensation for damages that aren’t specified in the government’s interim guidelines, without considering individual situations.”

Not Accepted

The survey by the government’s compensation fund said the second-most common reason for not filing claims with the utility known as Tepco was dissatisfaction with the guidelines and the amounts of compensation.

“Even if I negotiate with Tepco directly, they absolutely would not accept all of my claim,” said Masaki Otsuka, a 52-year-old Futaba town resident who now lives in temporary housing in Fukushima city.

Tepco is working on improving the process to reduce the burden on those seeking compensation, Tsuyoshi Shiraishi, a spokesman for the utility, said by phone on March 9. The utility sent supplementary instructions in October, he said.

“The day of March 11th is forever etched on the hearts and minds of every Tepco employee,” Tepco President Toshio Nishizawa said in a statement yesterday. “All Tepco group companies will further intensify their efforts to care for the presently afflicted and provide the compensation due them in a swift manner.”

Helping Victims

The government is preparing a Tepco bailout package of as much as 11 trillion yen ($135 billion), the largest in Japan since the rescue of the banking industry in the 1990s, after the March 11 quake and tsunami crippled the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear station.

As part of the package, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano last month approved 689.4 billion yen in extra financial support to help the utility make compensation payments.

“Helping the victims is our top priority,” Edano told Tepco’s Nishizawa and ordered the utility to improve its compensation payment system in a Feb. 13 meeting.

Reiko Hachisuka, the head of the Okuma town’s chamber of commerce and industry, said she’s infuriated with Tepco because of the complicated compensation process and ignorance about the circumstances of evacuees.

“I told them ’If you think you are giving money to charity, you are making a big mistake,’” Hachisuka, 59, said in an interview last month in a temporary dwelling in Aizuwakamatsu city, about 94 kilometers west of her hometown.

Also worrying is that evacuees are being attacked by anonymous postings on Internet chat boards for “sponging” off the government, she said.

“Some people on the Internet call us spongers, but for people like us living with nothing, money is essential,” she said. “We have left everything behind.”

Complaints Surge

At the government’s help center, the number of complaints may surge as the utility last week started sending compensation packages to residents who voluntarily left their homes. About 1.5 million people are eligible for payments for voluntary evacuation, according to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology.

Tepco has received a total of 680 billion yen in financial support from the government. It has paid 428.2 billion yen in compensation by March 2, it said in a statement on its website. Of that, 151.5 billion yen was paid to individuals.

The government-backed bailout fund surveyed 2,252 households between Nov. 19 and Feb. 26 to investigate why the number of compensation claims filed to Tepco failed to increase, it said. Of the respondents, 1,279 households, or 57 percent, haven’t filed claims, according to the survey.

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