Tepco becomes reluctant to settle nuclear disaster damages

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FUKUSHIMA – Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. has become significantly more reluctant since last year to accept a government body’s recommendations for a settlement of damages claims by people affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, government officials and lawyers involved said.

The company’s tougher stance in negotiating out-of-court compensation settlements could force those affected to resort to lengthy and costly legal actions.

Lawyers representing residents of Fukushima say some have given up on taking their claims to court due to legal costs, after Tepco rejected the body’s settlement proposals.

Following the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which was triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the government established the dispute resolution body to broker settlements between Tepco and people seeking compensation.

Three nuclear reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 plant suffered meltdowns, which led to the contamination of wide areas of Fukushima Prefecture.

According to the government, more than 31,000 people who evacuated from their homes in Fukushima are still living outside the prefecture.

In the process, called alternative dispute resolution, the body proposes settlement terms based on government guidelines regarding the types of damages and costs eligible for compensation.

Tepco said in 2014 it would respect the body’s reconciliation proposals even though the company is under no legal obligation to do so.

In 2018, the body terminated 49 settlement proposals due to Tepco’s refusal to accept them, including nine cases brought by employees of the power company and their relatives, its officials said. The cases involved at least 19,000 residents near the plant, they said.

The number was a significant increase from 61 in the four years through 2017. All of those during the four-year period were cases in which Tepco employees or their family members sought compensation. In many of the rejected cases, Tepco refused to pay damages because the company saw the recommended compensation as unjustifiable under the government guidelines, the officials said.

The officials said the body decided to discontinue the resolution processes partly to encourage residents to consider legal action.

One of the lawyers representing Fukushima residents said, “Tepco may be concerned that uniformly compensating residents according to settlement proposals would lead to a revision of the government guidelines to its disadvantage.”

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