Woman urged to repay nuke disaster compensation after she enters college outside Fukushima（Mainichi）
Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) has demanded that a 21-year-old woman repay roughly 9 million yen of the 16 million yen in compensation she received over the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which left her family home in an off-limits zone, it has been learned.
TEPCO is demanding the woman return the amount she received after she entered a college outside Fukushima Prefecture and changed her residential address. The woman has resisted the demand.
“I have no prospects of being able to return home, and my psychological pain continues,” she said.
TEPCO has not released concrete guidelines for compensation. It is feared that the finances of other nuclear evacuees could be thrown into disarray if TEPCO were to suddenly demand that they repay large amounts of compensation they have already received.
Under interim guidelines from the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, a body operating under the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, people who are forced to evacuate from their homes for long periods are eligible for compensation for mental suffering. TEPCO makes decisions on compensation based on the requests it receives.
The case of the 21-year-old woman marks the first time that TEPCO has demanded repayment of compensation from someone other than its own employees. Roughly 80,000 people are eligible for compensation for mental suffering, and it is possible the company’s move could affect other evacuees who change their addresses when entering academic institutions, getting married or job transfers. The company is therefore likely to face calls to clarify its guidelines for compensation.
The family of the 21-year-old woman, who agreed to speak to the Mainichi Shimbun, said that in December 2010, when she was a third-year student at a high school in the Futaba district of Fukushima Prefecture, she was accepted into a three-year nursing college in the Kanto region. After the outbreak of the nuclear disaster in March 2011, her family evacuated from one place to another within the prefecture. In early April that year, she started living by herself in an apartment near the college. She graduated this spring and started working at a hospital in the Kanto region.
When her family visited a TEPCO counter to discuss compensation in June this year, they explained how she had entered the college. Then in early September, a bill from TEPCO arrived. It stated that the amount she had received differed from what she was supposed to have been paid. TEPCO said that she had decided to enter the college before the nuclear accident, and that her period of evacuation ended when she changed her address to attend college.
Specifically, TEPCO demanded that the woman repay the 7.3 million yen she had received for mental suffering (covering six years and one month worth of payments at 100,000 yen per month), in addition to 480,000 yen in compensation for her evacuation from the no-go zone, and about 1.28 million yen in compensation for household effects.
The woman had sought compensation from TEPCO for household effects because she had purchased new items, not having taken anything from her home after the outbreak of the nuclear disaster. However, TEPCO asked her to repay the amount on the grounds that she had purchased the items in line with her entry into college.
The woman’s family remains unhappy with TEPCO’s demand.
“People from the zones where return has been deemed difficult are unable to return to their homes for a long time. She did enter college, she hasn’t become financially independent, and her life as an evacuee hasn’t finished. TEPCO hasn’t publicly released its payment guidelines, and we can’t agree with its decision,” a family member said.
A representative of TEPCO’s head office for Fukushima restoration told the Mainichi Shimbun, “We can’t comment on individual cases, but decisions are not made on academic advancement alone. We will continue with compensation in the future while checking individual circumstances.”
According to the Fukushima Prefecture Board of Education, roughly 1,000 high school students from evacuation zones graduated in the spring of 2011, as the woman did. If it turns out they decided to change their address to areas outside evacuation zones before the outbreak of the nuclear disaster, then they could face demands from the company to return their payments.
The education ministry’s office on measures for compensation for nuclear damage takes the view that in general terms, if a person can’t return home, then their period of evacuation does not end simply because of academic advancement. However, the nuclear damage response office within the Agency for Natural Resources and Energy under the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, has seen this as a borderline situation in determining whether or not compensation should be paid.
Earlier, when several TEPCO employees changed their address to locations outside the zones that were off-limits, the company judged that their period of evacuation had ended, and demanded that they repay compensation for mental anguish. The bill that one employee faced was in the range of millions of yen.
There have been other cases in which TEPCO has cut off compensation payments. When a woman in her 30s married a man outside the evacuation zone in October 2011, TEPCO judged that the woman’s livelihood had been established, and cut off her payments for mental suffering. The woman argued that her mental suffering had not ended, and filed for mediation through the central government’s Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center. The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy informed TEPCO that it was not right to cut off compensation using marriage as a reason, and payments subsequently resumed.
Filed under: 8.Eathquake & Nuclear accident