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Hundreds outside Fukushima seek compensation for nuclear disaster

Existing compensation plan only covers Fukushima residents

TOKYO—Hundreds of people living just outside Japan’s Fukushima prefecture say they have been denied adequate compensation after the country’s 2011 nuclear disaster despite suffering elevated radiation levels.

Nearly 700 residents from Hippo district in Miyagi prefecture, just northeast of Fukushima, filed a claim Tuesday with a government arbitration office demanding that they be given the same compensation as residents of Fukushima.

The government’s basic compensation scheme only covers Fukushima residents, which critics say is an attempt to minimize costs.

The Hippo residents said some radiation levels in their area exceeded those in Fukushima towns. Hippo district is about 50 kilometres northwest of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant.

They demanded that the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (Tepco), pay them an additional 70 million yen ($690,000) in damages.

Due to the huge costs of compensation and clean-up of the plant, Tepco has declared bankruptcy and is under state control. The compensation money paid by Tepco actually comes from the government.

Radiation levels in Hippo district are comparable to areas in Fukushima subject to voluntary evacuation, where residents are entitled to receive up to 720,000 yen ($7,000) for every child and pregnant woman, and up to 120,000 yen ($1,180) per adult. After months of negotiations, Tepco has agreed to pay Hippo residents about half the Fukushima amount.

Residents of areas just outside of Fukushima say they also face discrimination in legal protection. They say health checks, radiation monitoring and clean-up projects in most cases do not go beyond the prefectural border.

“Damages from the nuclear accident do not stop at the border. We hope that the compensation program is carried out in a way that reflects the reality of people’s lives,” said Koji Otani, a lawyer representing the residents.

Although the amount sought by each resident is small, the group hopes to be able to set a precedent, he said.

A massive earthquake and tsunami hit the Fukushima plant, knocking out its cooling systems and causing the cores of three reactors to melt and release radioactivity into the air and water. The radiation level in Hippo exceeded the annual limit for nuclear workers.

So far, Tepco has paid 2.3 trillion yen ($22.5 billion), about half of it to companies and business owners. That amount includes 1.6 million individual claims, mostly from voluntary evacuees. Because the amount of claims is expected to exceed the initial estimate of 3 trillion yen ($29 billion), the government has injected an additional 154 billion yen ($1.5 billion) into the compensation fund.

About 150,000 Fukushima residents are still displaced. Hundreds have filed claims seeking greater compensation.

Copyright © The Associated Press.

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