October 30, 2013

On Saturday, October 26th, an Asahi Shimbun article included (buried at the end) a breakdown of how much money Fukushima evacuees have received from Tepco since April of 2011.(1) It took me several days to get my mind around the numbers. Many times, I returned to the article to make sure I didn’t read it incorrectly. The payouts have been staggering, and I’m not afraid to admit outrage on my part. I had a feeling the stipends were considerable, but nothing like this.

Here’s the breakdown, as posted by the Science and Environment Ministry and reported by The Asahi. An average family of four has received about $900,000 (90 million yen) in compensation from Tepco since April, 2011 – $490,000 for real estate compensation, $110,000 in lost wages, and $300,000 in “consolation” money for pain and suffering (including psychological distress). In other words, each family of four has been getting about $30,000 per month. It’s many, many times more than any tsunami refugees are getting from Tokyo ($1,900-2,400 per month, from the reports I’ve seen). It’s more money each month than I made in all of last year! No wonder many F-D evacuees have refused to return home in the few locations where evacuation orders are about to be lifted. There are officially 84,000 Fukushima residents receiving these stipends. Being a Fukushima evacuee has become big business.

At the same time these numbers were released, Tokyo said they are considering extending the statute on the existing pain and suffering payout of more than $1,000 per month per person – and it is tax-exempt. Currently, the statute on the psychological damage is for one year after the restriction on repopulation is lifted for each community. The Ministry says they will consider extending the statute if social infrastructure and employment opportunities are considered insufficient. In addition, a further statute extension is possible if psychological suffering continues unabated.

The Ministry announcement has caused some of the evacuees to say “enough”! One Miyakoji resident is in favor of cutting off the compensation after a year so that people would stop depending on the payments and move forward with their lives. Iitate mayor Norio Kanno, whose residents continue to live as evacuees, said one year after restrictions are lifted is an appropriate cutoff point because people would not feel the need to return to work if the compensation was overly extended. And, the psych monies but a small part of the total now being paid out.

How did this magnificent munificence happen? The first few days of the Fukushima accident in March, 2011, then-PM Naoto Kan and his staff arbitrarily set an evacuation radius of 20 kilometers around F. Daiichi. Arbitrarily? Absolutely! They refused to use the meteorological assessment system available to them (SPEEDI) in order to establish where people needed to be moved. Naoto Kan later testified that he believed meteorological projections were inherently inaccurate so he told his Kantei (Cabinet staff) to ignore SPEEDI. As it turned out, only about half of the 20 km radius really warranted evacuation, based on IAEA guidelines. The airborne releases during the first three days of the accident, including the first two hydrogen explosions, were blown out to sea. When the wind finally shifted in-land on the fourth day, it carried contamination north and northwest of F. Daiichi before effectively dissipating. It should be noted that initial evacuation out to 3 kilometers in all directions was probably correct. But, not 20 kilometers in all directions.

In the months that followed, Kan and his cronies craftily used the Press to constantly lower the exposure goal for having people return home. At first it was 20 millisieverts per year, the IAEA criteria for in-home sheltering and precautionary evacuation (in special cases). Blaming public outcry in the Press over the exposure limits being too high, the repopulation criteria was eventually dropped to 1 measly mSv/yr. In the process, it made Kan’s unnecessary and arbitrary evacuations of thousands of not-at-risk Fukushima residents seem appropriate.

But, Kan didn’t stop there. The passage of a Fukushima compensation act was quietly pushed through the Diet by Kan and his majority Democratic Party of Japan. By prior law, an industrial accident causing public evacuation must be compensated-for by the guilty company. Kan revised the law to support Fukushima evacuees for however long it was needed before they returned home, and Tokyo told the Press it was (after all) the right thing to do. Kan’s regime estimated the total payouts would be $600,000 per family over the estimated 3 year period needed to decontaminate their homes. They were very wrong.

Kan used Fukushima to deflect the world’s attention away from the horrific disaster caused by the tsunami, which made more than 300,000 Tohoku residents permanently homeless many hours before the nuke accident began. He was an unpopular Prime Minister, already on the verge of being booted from his lofty perch due to Japan’s plummeting economy and an extremely high valuation of the Japanese Yen. He needed something to stem his political bleeding. Kan’s government had precious little money to help the tsunami refugees, but he could use his nation’s historic fear of radiation to make Tepco pay out the nose and generously compensate many thousands of refugees that Tokyo forced to flee.

As a result, there are 84,000 Fukushima residents getting big bucks for separation from hearth and home. Many say they don’t want to go home because they are afraid of getting cancer. Others say they don’t trust the government’s exposure standards for repopulation. However, most of the reluctant refugees say it’s because they don’t trust Tepco. But, they certainly trust Tepco to issue them their huge monthly checks.

Let’s face it – they don’t want to go home because being a Fukushima evacuee is a serious money-making life-style, and they don’t want to lose their lucrative income.