Tainted cities irate over Tepco’s slow compensation payments: survey

[Translated by The Japan Times] Tokyo Electric Power Co. has paid a mere 11.4 percent of the ¥55.3 billion in nuclear redress claims filed by municipalities damaged by the Fukushima disaster, a survey shows, and some are seeking action to speed the process up. Negotiations have crawled along for four years and eight months since the triple reactor meltdown, and the foot-dragging is wreaking havoc on the fiscal affairs of dozens of municipalities. The survey by the daily Fukushima Minpo is based on responses from all 59 cities, towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture as of Oct. 30. All but three municipalities are claiming damages. The claims average ¥988.2 million, but 11 are demanding more than ¥1 billion. The largest claim, for ¥19.2 billion, was filed by the town of Futaba, which co-hosts the defunct Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. Next are a ¥7.1 billion one filed by Koriyama, a ¥5.9 billion claim by Fukushima and a ¥3.5 billion claim by Iwaki. Tokyo Electric’s payment ratio is 4.4 points higher than the 7.0 percent rate logged in the previous survey in August 2013, which showed Tepco, as the utility is known, had only paid ¥2.4 billion of the ¥34.2 billion in claims filed at that time. But the utility is still perceived as lagging with the payments. The municipalities demand compensation because the evacuations decimated their populations, causing residential and fixed asset tax revenues to evaporate. Rising labor costs are another reason as new officials had to be hired to deal with the nuclear crisis. Tepco said payment has been slow as “it takes time to scrutinize the claims because the amount is so huge.” Asked if Tepco’s untimely redress is affecting fiscal management, 10 municipalities replied that “it greatly affects (management),” and 26 replied “it has an impact.” For example, town of Kori, which said nonpayment has had a heavy impact on its finances, has received only 23.1 percent of what it claimed. “We are spending part of tax revenue to cover the lack of payment, which leads to curbs on other projects,” the town said. If compensation remain sluggish, it might delay more projects and lower quality of services, it said. The town of Tomioka said: “We are working on rebuilding local facilities ahead of residents’ return. But the money is not being paid and we are struggling to secure revenue.” Based on these situations, 15 municipalities are considering applying for settlement mediation with the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, via a process known as alternative dispute resolution. Most have filed massive compensation claims or have evacuation zones in their midst. Futaba, one of the 15, hasn’t received any compensation and is consulting with lawyers about applying to the dispute committee. Officials in the city of Yabuki said, “We will eye ADR, but it all depends on (Tepco’s) response.” Tepco has paid only 4 percent of Yabuki’s claims. Others are being cautious. Officials in Tamura are concerned that the application procedure will increase its paperwork and take a long time to prepare. “It could impose a new burden on us,” the city said in the survey. The city of Motomiya will see if applying for mediation is really effective. “Filing an application could mean shutting down further negotiations (with Tepco),” it said. On the other hand, Fukushima and the town of Kori have already applied and reached settlements on water and other projects. The remaining 39 municipalities signaled they have no plans to apply. The city of Date said it does not plan to resort to ADR. “ADR is a measure to speed up damages owed to companies. It does not work with damages owed to municipalities,” it said. But it is possible the number of mediation applications will increase, since some are simply waiting to see what happens. “We will decide what to do while watching others’ movements,” the city of Sukagawa said. “We are working on early payment by accepting damage claims for projects whose specific standards for estimates are complete,” Tepco explained. “When we receive claims for other projects, we are taking proper steps while listening to their situations,” the utility said.