Photo/IllutrationMasakazu Suzuki, 68, head of the group of plaintiffs that filed a damage compensation lawsuit with the Fukushima District Court against Tokyo Electric Power Co. in November 2018, stands in a garden of his home in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, on Dec. 17. (Teru Okumura)

A government body set up to mediate in compensation disputes with Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the 2011 nuclear disaster is throwing in the towel because of the plant operator's repeated refusal to play ball with aggrieved residents.

Officials of the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center complained that TEPCO, operator of the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, keeps rejecting settlement proposals offered in an alternative dispute resolution process.

The center discontinued trying to offer assistance in 19 cases in 2018 and another one on Jan. 10, affecting 17,000 residents in total.

If the center discontinues its mediation work, residents will have no recourse but to file lawsuits, which take time and money to resolve.

The center was set up in September 2011 to quickly settle disputes between TEPCO and residents who are unhappy with the amounts of compensation offered by the company based on the government’s guidelines.

When residents applied to the center for higher levels of compensation, lawyers working as mediators listened to what they and TEPCO had to say to draw up settlement proposals.

Residents and TEPCO are not legally obliged to accept the proposals.

As a result, some residents resorted to filing lawsuits because they got no joy from TEPCO.

Between 2013 and 2017, the center discontinued mediation work on 72 cases, all of which concerned TEPCO employees or their family members.

The 19 cases that were discontinued last year and the one last week had been mainly brought by groups, each of which consisted of more than 100 residents.

The largest group comprised 16,000 or so residents of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture.

Immediately after the triple meltdown at the Fukushima plant in 2011, all of the town's residents were ordered to evacuate to other municipalities.

In March 2014, the center offered to add 50,000 yen ($460) to compensation amounts ranging from 100,000 yen to 120,000 yen a month that were offered to each of the 16,000 residents by TEPCO under the government’s guidelines.

It also offered an additional 30,000 yen if any residents were aged 75 or older.

However, TEPCO rejected the proposal, prompting the center to abandon its mediation efforts in the case last April.

Some of the residents filed a lawsuit with the Fukushima District Court in November.

With regard to cases involving groups of residents, the center continued to urge TEPCO to accept its settlement proposals for several years.

As the company kept turning a blind eye to the requests, the center began to discontinue its mediation efforts in those cases from last year.

In its management reconstruction plan, TEPCO says that it will respect settlement proposals made by the center.

However, Masafumi Yokemoto, a professor of environmental policies at Osaka City University, believes it is doubtful that TEPCO will make good on that pledge.

“If TEPCO agrees to offer compensation amounts that exceed the government’s guidelines, people in other areas could also seek increased compensation amounts," he said.

A TEPCO representative, meantime, said that as settlements (with residents) are closed and individual procedures, "we will refrain from expressing our opinions.”