Deadline for Fukushima victims

In mid-September, 2½ years will have passed since the start of the nuclear catastrophe at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Contamination of the environment with radioactive substances from the crippled plant continues unabated today despite the efforts of Tepco. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Fukushima residents have been irrevocably changed by the nuclear disaster, and some 150,000 people still cannot return to their homes even today.

Due to a civil code provision that limits compensation claims to three years after a person becomes aware of damage, the right of victims of the nuclear disaster to claim compensation will begin to expire in March 2014 unless the Diet establishes special legislation.

To apply this civil code provision to victims of the Fukushima nuclear fiasco is wrong in view of the unparalleled scale and ongoing duration of the disaster. The government and political parties must enact legislation in the Diet session this autumn to greatly lengthen the period in which victims can claim compensation from Tepco.

For some time, attention has been focused on the pending deadline to claim compensation. In February, Tepco announced it would consider the prescribed period to be “interrupted” when victims of the fiasco finally received the documents from Tepco needed for claiming compensation.

This response is grossly inadequate. Tepco is sending such documents only to a limited number of people whom it regards as victims. And even some of them might not have received the documents for various reasons. Still others may find it difficult to prove the extent of their suffering and losses. Tepco says that it will flexibly deal with the matter even if the right to claim compensation expires. But this is hardly assuring as it depends on Tepco’s judgment, which — given how the company has been mismanaging the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant — can hardly be trusted.

Compensation for Fukushima nuclear accident victims is large in scope and complex. An estimated 1 million people have suffered from the accident. Compensation covers a wide range of things, including consolation money, damage to property, costs needed for evacuation, and financial damage suffered by farmers and fishermen because of rumors that their products are contaminated with radioactive substances.

It will take an enormous amount of time for victims to collect evidence and properly fill out compensation documents.

The victims had their daily lives disrupted by the nuclear accident and they were not at fault. None of them should be deprived of his or her right to claim compensation because the civil code sets an expiration date. It is imperative that the government and political parties strive to enact a new law so that all the victims of the nuclear disaster can exercise their right to claim compensation.