July 28, 2015 / 9:34 AM / in 2 years

Japan approves increase in Fukushima compensation to $57 billion

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan on Tuesday approved an increase in compensation payments for the Fukushima crisis to 7.07 trillion yen ($57.18 billion), as tens of thousands of evacuees remain in temporary housing more than four years after the disaster.

Big black plastic bags containing radiated soil, leaves and debris from the decontamination operation are dumped at a seaside, devastated by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tomioka town, Fukushima prefecture, near Tokyo Electric Power Co's (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant February 22, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), the operator of the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear station, will receive 950 billion yen more in public funds on top of the 6.125 trillion agreed earlier, the utility and the government said.

The increase, agreed after a request by Tepco, adds to the bill for taxpayers for the disaster in March 2011, when three reactors melted down after an earthquake and tsunami, in the worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl in 1986, destroying businesses and livelihoods.

Tepco has face a stream of legal cases seeking compensation over the disaster.

Electricity bills for Japanese households have also risen 25 percent since the catastrophe as the country resorted to importing more fossils fuels with the gradual shutdown of all nuclear reactors for safety checks and upgrades.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government and Tepco, which was 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.

Inside the plant, Tepco has struggled to bring the situation under control and it is estimated removing the melted fuel from the wrecked reactors and cleaning up the site will cost tens of billions of dollars and take decades to complete.

The government plans to revoke evacuation orders for most people forced from their homes by the disaster within two years as part of a plan to cap compensation payouts and speed up reconstruction.

Reporting by Osamu Tsukimori; Editing by Aaron Sheldrick and Ed Davies

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