A bill proposed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party will extend the statute of limitations by seven years for filing claims for damages from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as thousands of victims have not come forward for redress.
The move is intended to prevent Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, from refusing to compensate victims on the basis of the three-year statute of limitations for damage claims.
The LDP is set to submit the bill in the extraordinary Diet session that starts next month.
While the planned legislation will likely help more victims to receive compensation, it may prompt the central government to overhaul the existing framework for assisting TEPCO. Experts say it is difficult to predict the final cost of the legislation.
Of the 160,000 people who were ordered by authorities to evacuate after the accident occurred at the plant on March 11, 2011, about 10,000 victims have yet to file claims for damages with the utility.
They could lose their right to make a claim after 2014 due to the three-year statute of limitations under the Civil Law.
The proposed legislation aims to extend the statute of limitations for claims to 10 years.
The Japan Federation of Bar Associations, which has called for the same 10-year limit as a creditor’s claim, put the number of eligible victims who have not yet made damage claims with TEPCO at nearly 1 million. The figure includes those whose business operations suffered as well as those who evacuated at their own discretion.
“A large number of evacuees are still being forced to live under restricted conditions, making it harder for many to exercise their right to compensation,” said the draft outline of the legislation, which was compiled by an LDP committee on supporting victims of the nuclear accident and rebuilding of local industries.
Fukushiro Nukaga, a former finance minister who leads the committee, said lawmakers will work to sponsor the legislation and pass it in the extraordinary Diet session. The Diet members held hearings over the matter with local officials in Fukushima Prefecture on Sept. 19-20.
The proposed bill appears to be drawing support.
Hakubun Shimomura, education minister, already suggested to the LDP a bill aimed to give relief to the victims. New Komeito, a junior coalition partner of the LDP, plans to hold a meeting shortly to study the proposed measure.
TEPCO said that it would not outright turn down a claim based on the statute of limitations. But it has not explicitly committed to not using it as a reason for rejecting claims in the future.
A special law was enacted in May to help victims if they seek a settlement brokered by the nuclear damage compensation dispute resolution center, an alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
The center, set up under the education ministry, is run by experts at the education ministry, justice ministry, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations and courts.
But the federation said few victims have turned to the mechanism due to cumbersome procedures involved in the process.
The central government established a system to temporarily shoulder costs for compensation and cleanup for TEPCO up to 5 trillion yen ($50 billion).
The payout of compensation has so far totaled 3.8 trillion yen.
Efforts to clean up areas surrounding the plant are expected to cost in excess of 5 trillion yen.
The extension of the statute of limitations could result in the ballooning of compensation payouts, prompting the central government to review the existing framework concerning TEPCO.
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