Tokyo (AFP) April 15, 2011
Japan's government on Friday ordered the embattled operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to offer payouts to tens of thousands of people made homeless by the ongoing crisis.
Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) said it would give an initial one million yen ($12,000) to each family living around the radiation-leaking Fukushima Daiichi power station.
"We have decided to offer necessary payment as provisional compensation so that we can provide as much support as possible," TEPCO president Masataka Shimizu told a news conference.
Tens of thousands who were ordered to evacuate an initial 20-kilometre (12-mile) zone around the plant will be eligible for the money, as are many more from a further 10-kilometre band who were advised to stay indoors.
The payment will also cover people in communities further afield who have this week been told to prepare for evacuation because of worries over the effects of long-term exposure to radiation from the overheating reactors.
The company estimates payouts to the approximately 50,000 households covered by the plan will cost around 50 billion yen.
Shimizu said the firm would begin making the payments this month.
The announcement came after increasingly stern warnings from Tokyo, itself under fire for a sometimes haphazard approach to a disaster only this week upgraded to the maximum level seven on an international scale of nuclear accidents.
Trade Minister Banri Kaieda told a news conference the government had intervened to order TEPCO to make the payments.
"The government has decided to tell Tokyo Electric to swiftly pay provisional compensation that these people need as money to live on for now," he said.
The 50 billion yen cost likely represents only a fraction of the final bill TEPCO faces in the aftermath of the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl 25 years ago.
Radiation from the overheating reactors has made its way into the air, land and sea, resulting in bans on produce from the affected area and hurting the fishing industry because of public fears over radioactive seafood.
Japan's nuclear safety agency said Friday an operation to dump more than 10,000 tonnes of contaminated water into the sea last week had no major effect on radiation levels in the ocean.
Compensation for fishermen and farmers, coupled with final payouts for families forced from their homes, could reach 10 trillion yen, according to some estimates.
Shimizu said his firm was considering various cost cutting programmes to free up cash, including job cuts and the sale of assets. The Yomuri Shimbun reported this could involve selling 100 billion yen of real estate.
Kaieda said ministers would ensure the company was held to account.
"TEPCO holds the unambiguous responsibility for the damage compensation," he told reporters.
"The government will make sure TEPCO will be able to fulfil its compensation responsibility based on its earnings while performing their duty to provide electricity," Kaieda said.
Reaction to the initial payout was muted.
Evacuee Katsue Ishikawa told the Yomiuri: "The money will surely help a little, but I would like to go home soon.
"I would be happier if they could tell me when I could go home."
Five weeks on from the quake and tsunami, which killed 13,500 people and left 14,500 unaccounted for, the economic aftershocks were still reverberating around Japan.
Toyota, the world's biggest auto maker, said Friday it would operate all its domestic plants at half of normal capacity from May 10 to June 3, citing problems with the parts supply.
Work is still stalled at the company's Japanese plants, with production expected to resume on Monday at 50 percent normal levels until a further shutdown for the national Golden Week holidays on April 27.
The parts crunch has also hit Toyota's European and North American production, with suppliers in Japan affected by power shortages or still offline because of tsunami damage.
In a welcome sign of life slowly beginning to return to normal, Tokyo Disneyland threw open its doors again Friday after a five-week hiatus.
Mickey Mouse greeted many of the 10,000 visitors who had queued outside the giant theme park, where the huge tremor liquefied the ground under the car park and caused minor damage to the "Big Thunder Mountain" attraction.
"We have been waiting impatiently for the park to reopen," said Disney fan and parent Kazuhiro Sugiyama, 34. "My little daughter is overjoyed and just keeps saying: 'Mickey, Mickey!'"
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