Gov’t reluctant to charge TEPCO over rent money for voluntary Fukushima evacuees via The Mainichi

The government has been covering the rent for apartments provided for evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture, while not demanding payment for this purpose from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) — the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant — it has been learned.

While TEPCO is ready to pay the rent costs for those who have been forced to evacuate from their hometowns due to government evacuation orders, the utility is reluctant to do the same for evacuees who left their homes voluntarily. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has fallen in line with TEPCO on the matter, while the decision on which party is to charge TEPCO — the national government or Fukushima Prefecture — is still also up in the air.

Since the Disaster Relief Act has applied to the entirety of Fukushima Prefecture following the 2011 nuclear crisis, local residents — whether forced or voluntary evacuees — have all been provided rent-free apartments as temporary shelters. Prefectural governments that have taken in Fukushima evacuees initially submit the housing charges to the Fukushima Prefectural Government, which compiles data — but the central government has effectively been covering the entire cost.

According to the Cabinet Office, which holds jurisdiction over the Disaster Relief Act, the aid money spent on disaster relief measures in Fukushima Prefecture totaled 31.7 billion yen in fiscal 2013 and 28.7 billion yen in 2014, based on the fiscal budget. Much of the aid money is believed to have gone to cover apartment rental costs, meaning that taxpayers’ money is going into something that should be covered by TEPCO.
Furthermore, the central and Fukushima prefectural governments have failed to settle which party is to charge TEPCO for the rent money. Since the Ibaraki Prefectural Government demanded that private businesses pay rescue costs for a 1999 accident at the JCO nuclear material processing plant in the prefectural town of Tokai, the health ministry sought to establish measures that enabled the Fukushima Prefectural Government and municipal governments in the prefecture to charge TEPCO over the rent money. However, the Fukushima government has claimed that the central government should take responsibility for demanding that TEPCO pay the housing fees, since the latter has been shouldering the cost.

A Cabinet Office representative told the Mainichi Shimbun that the government cannot demand that TEPCO pay for something the utility refuses to pay — suggesting the government’s plan to exempt TEPCO from covering rent payment compensation for voluntary evacuees.

Masafumi Yokemoto, a professor of environmental policy at Osaka City University, points out that a reason why the central government and other related parties haven’t charged TEPCO over the rent money for voluntary evacuees is because they don’t want to admit that those people are victims of the nuclear meltdown.

“The issue clearly shows how the government and TEPCO try to avoid responsibility for clarifying accountability for the disaster,” Yokemoto added.

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