The approaching deadline for an announcement on whether the provision of emergency temporary housing will be extended has turned the spotlight on those whose evacuations from Fukushima Prefecture are considered “voluntary.”
Immediately after the outbreak of the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster, the Disaster Relief Act was applied to the entirety of Fukushima Prefecture, making emergency temporary housing facilities available to all Fukushima prefectural residents. Soon afterward, however, evacuation designations for individual municipalities were put into place, and residents were classified into those whose homes were within designated “no-go zones,” referred to as “mandatory evacuees,” and those whose homes were not in designated “no-go zones,” referred to as “voluntary evacuees.” In other words, this differentiation between so-called mandatory and voluntary evacuees was made after the residents had already fled their homes.
The authorities’ stance toward voluntary evacuation has been made clear by how it has tried to pass off the burden of rental fees for appropriated housing — currently covered entirely by the national government — to TEPCO.
Internal government documents obtained by the Mainichi Shimbun through a freedom of information request show that the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare and the Reconstruction Agency summoned officials from Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi, the three prefectures hit hardest by the 2011 disasters, as well as officials from Yamagata, Niigata, Tochigi and Saitama Prefectures, which have hosted large populations of voluntary evacuees, to the Fukushima Regional Bureau of Reconstruction in the Fukushima capital on May 24, 2013.
According to inside sources, a Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare official at the meeting proposed that each prefecture bill TEPCO directly for rental fees incurred by nuclear disaster evacuees, pointing to the example of the 1999 JCO nuclear incident in Tokaimura, Ibaraki Prefecture, in which Ibaraki prefectural authorities received disaster relief funds from the plant operator. The proposal was abandoned, however, after prefectural officials objected, demanding why the prefectural governments and not the central government — which had heretofore shouldered all the costs — should have to charge the utility.
TEPCO has expressed reluctance to cover the rental fees of voluntary evacuees, and the government has deliberated the possibility of initially billing the power company for the rental fees incurred by mandatory evacuees, but a final decision has yet to be made. If the government ultimately decides not to charge TEPCO for the rental fees of voluntary evacuees, it would imply that TEPCO bears no responsibility for the evacuation of those people. Whoever eventually charges TEPCO for evacuation costs — a role which prefectural and central government officials tried to foist onto each other in May 2013 — will have to decide how voluntary evacuees are treated and explain the rationale behind the decision.
As one central government official said, “It all comes down to the fact that no one wants to be held accountable.”