Japan Evacuees Angered by Tepco Red Tape
Evacuees from around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant said the company’s 200-page package for compensation claims is “outrageous” and needs to be simplified.
The utility known as Tepco started sending out 60,000 application forms this week to those forced to evacuate after the plant started belching radiation in March. The package includes three forms that need to be filled in, one of which has 56 pages. A 156-page explanatory booklet completes the bundle of documents, while claimants are required to submit receipts and other records to support claims.
“It’s outrageous. Who would think of getting receipts when living in an evacuation shelter?” said Reiko Hachisuka, 59, who owns a flower shop and house about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the plant and is living in a temporary dwelling. “Tepco must make the forms much simpler.”
The Fukushima Dai-Ichi station, about 220 kilometers north of Tokyo, had three reactor meltdowns after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami knocked out power and cooling. Radiation leaks displaced 160,000 people and Tepco may face as much as 11 trillion yen ($143 billion) in compensation claims, Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch unit said in March.
The utility may receive as many as 500,000 claims from individuals and companies seeking payments through August, Tepco Managing Director Naomi Hirose said on Aug. 30. For damage caused after August, claims by those affected can be made on a three-month basis, Hirose said.
“If someone affected by the accident doesn’t have receipts, we will deal with it on a case-by-case basis,” Naoyuki Matsumoto, a spokesman for the utility, said.
Evacuees are also asked to send certificates from doctors and employers to validate medical conditions and claims for lost income.
The utility has paid out 112 billion yen in provisional compensation, Hirose said. These payments will be deducted from the next payout, which covers the period from the disaster to the end of August. Tepco plans to start making the payments in early October.
“It’s possible we won’t get any more money. My wife and I have received 1.6 million yen in temporary payments,” Jinichi Kato, 57, who has been living in an apartment near Tokyo after evacuating his home about 5 kilometers from the plant. “We’re cutting down on food. There isn’t much left from the temporary payment from Tepco and we won’t be able to survive.”
In contrast to Tepco’s package, insurers in Japan require premium holders to fill in a one or two page claim form for damages from natural disasters like the quake and tsunami, which left almost 20,000 people dead or missing.
Because of the scale of the disaster the claims process was simplified, according to the General Insurance Association of Japan.
Insurance companies paid 1.15 trillion yen in claims for the March disaster by Sept. 14, the association said. The number of claims payments totaled 685,000, it said.
Tepco said it will also pay for losses caused by evacuation, shipment bans and harmful rumors to agricultural, forestry and fishery companies as well as small business owners, according to Tepco. Details of compensation for companies and small business owners will be announced on Oct. 21, Matsumoto said.
Deluged With Enquiries
Tepco’s call center for compensation payments received 2,200 inquiries on Sept. 13, almost twice the daily average since starting the office, after evacuees were sent the applications, Matsumoto said.
The calls include complaints about the compensation process and questions about how to fill in the application forms, Matsumoto said. The utility made every effort to simplify the claim’s process, he said.
Tepco plans to increase the number of personnel dealing with claims to 6,500 by October, with 300 of them working at the call center, it said in August. Matsumoto declined to comment costs for producing the compensation applications and setting up the call center.
Evacuees will be reimbursed 5,000 yen per trip within the same prefecture and 8,000 yen a night for staying at a hotel. The company will also pay medical expenses, including payments for mental suffering.
Tepco hasn’t laid out criteria for claiming losses on property value because “it’s impractical to assess,” the company said.
Asking people to put a price tag on their emotional or mental suffering is unrealistic, Kato said.
“What they are doing doesn’t reflect reality. There is a gap between how we evacuees think and how Tepco and the government think,” Kato said. “Your mental pain is something that increases over time.”
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