May 26, 2015 / 11:22 AM / in 2 years

Japan coalition wants to end most Fukushima evacuations by 2017: draft

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's ruling coalition will recommend lifting evacuation orders for most people forced from their homes by the Fukushima nuclear disaster within two years in a bid to speed up reconstruction, a draft proposal shows.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's party and its governing partner will also press local governments in the disaster zone to shoulder more of the reconstruction spending now being borne by central government, according to the draft seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

Thousands of Fukushima residents remain in temporary housing more than four years after a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns, explosions and a plume of radiation into the air at Tokyo Electric Power Co's Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011.

Abe's government and the utility, bailed out by taxpayers in 2012, are undertaking an unprecedented cleanup to lower radiation levels in towns closest to the plant, although some areas will likely remain off limits for decades.

The coalition's proposal, likely to be approved by the parties in late June, is meant to form the basis for the Abe government's reconstruction policies.

Tokyo Electric has paid some $40 billion in compensation to residents and expects to pay billions more to decontaminate the area and decommission the wrecked power station, a project that could take an estimated three decades.

The draft proposal would lift the evacuation orders for areas with 54,800 registered evacuees, as of the latest data from October, leaving 24,400 people from the most heavily affected areas still under evacuation orders.

The proposal says it assumes that the areas will be sufficiently decontaminated before the evacuation orders are lifted but offers no scientific rationale for the target date.

Under the existing compensation scheme, the utility pays each evacuee about $1,000 a month for emotional distress. The assistance is to be cut off a year after the government lifts an evacuation order.

The draft plan calls for extending the stipend for all evacuees until March 2017 so that most residents can receive the same compensation regardless of when the government lifts its order.

Tokyo Electric also provides compensation to those who lost their jobs and partially covers the value of homes in the affected areas, depending on the length of their forced evacuation.

Japan began encouraging residents to return to homes 20 km (12 miles) from the plant last year, but many residents have mixed feelings about returning to abandoned towns.

Ruling party lawmakers are also pushing to transport contaminated soil into midterm storage facilities in Fukushima as quickly as possible, the draft shows.

Writing by Mari Saito; Editing by William Mallard

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