Time is running out for the more than 10,000 evacuees from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster to seek damage compensation from plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co.
They could lose their right to seek certain damages when the three-year statute of limitations, prescribed in the Civil Code, begins to run out next year.
During the early stages of the nuclear disaster triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, 165,824 forced evacuees received temporary payments from TEPCO, typically 1 million yen ($10,000) per household. However, 11,214 of them had yet to file formal compensation claims as of the end of May, according to material presented by TEPCO to Hiroyuki Arai, secretary-general of the New Renaissance Party and an Upper House member from Fukushima Prefecture.
Some residents and local governments have complained that they don't understand how to file their claims because the forms are too complicated. Other residents have said that they wrongly believed the temporary payments were all that they would be able to receive.
TEPCO began accepting compensation claims in September 2011 for emotional stress incurred between March and August 2011. In December 2011, it began accepting claims for emotional stress incurred between September and November 2011.
TEPCO has said it will calculate the three-year period from the start of legal procedures for each of those groups of claims. That means the statute of limitations will begin to run out in September 2014 in the earliest cases.
Though TEPCO officials have said the utility is not considering applying the statute of limitations immediately upon its expiry, Arai expressed skepticism.
"TEPCO has taken no positive actions for encouraging people to file claims," he said. "It probably wants to minimize the amount of compensation. Administrative bodies should turn to those who have yet to file claims and directly ask them if they wish to do so."
Those who began the claims process but abandoned it halfway through after failing to reach an agreement with TEPCO could also face an expiry of the statute of limitations.
In May, the Diet passed a special exemption law to suspend the statute of limitations if a claimant has asked the government's Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center for a mediation. The law allows the claimant to file a lawsuit within a one-month period following the expiry of the statute of limitations if the mediation fails.
But many of those who have yet to file claims with TEPCO have not contacted the dispute resolution center, making them ineligible for relief under the special exemption law. No moves for further legal amendments are yet in sight, although committees in both chambers of the Diet have adopted a supplementary resolution calling for "necessary steps, including discussions on legal measures."
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