Photo/IllutrationTomoaki Kobayakawa, left, president of Tokyo Electric Power Co., meets with Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori in June 2018. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Nearly eight years have passed since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, yet many victims seeking compensation for damages from Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of the crippled nuclear plant, face uncertainty as the talks are getting nowhere. This is an outrageous situation.

The number of cases in which TEPCO rejected an out-of-court settlement proposal from a government body for so-called alternative dispute resolution, or ADR, has increased sharply since last year.

The utility has refused to accept many ADR deals proposed by the Nuclear Damage Compensation Dispute Resolution Center in response to collective requests from groups of residents in areas around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The center was established by the government in 2011 to help settle compensation disputes between TEPCO and victims of the nuclear accident.

In about 20 cases involving some 17,000 residents, TEPCO has refused the center’s proposals, causing the ADR process to be canceled.

The residents can either apply for an individual ADR deal to be brokered by the center or file a damages lawsuit. But these steps are time-consuming and costly.

The dispute resolution center, established to facilitate compensation payments to people who have suffered damage from the Fukushima accident, has successfully mediated more than 18,000 settlement agreements, but the institution is now facing a brick wall.

The proposals rejected by TEPCO call for larger payments than the amounts suggested in the guidelines set by the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, a committee within the education and science ministry.

TEPCO says it cannot offer an “across-the-board increase” in the amounts of compensation. It also says some of the claims concern issues that are not clearly linked to the accident.

It is clear that the company is trying to prevent its already huge compensation payments from ballooning further.

The utility’s stance on this issue deserves to be roundly criticized.

TEPCO has made “three pledges” concerning compensation. It has promised to pay compensation to all victims “down to the last one,” ensure “swift and considerate” payments and “respect” settlement proposals made by the dispute resolution center.

But TEPCO has failed to match its words with action. Both the center and the ministry have repeatedly urged the company to fulfill its pledges.

The reconciliation committee’s guidelines are important criteria, but they should not be seen as absolute standards that cover all cases and possible changes in damage situations over time.

Even in trials, there is always certain latitude for the findings of fact and the interpretation of rules. This is all the more so for ADR because the approach is designed to promote dispute settlements through simple procedures.

If it really intends to act in line with the spirit of the “pledges” and take responsibility for the dire consequences of the severe accident, TEPCO should accept the center’s settlement proposals unless they contain extremely unreasonable elements.

Much of the blame for the situation should also be placed on the government, especially the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, which regulates the electric power industry.

The government has promoted nuclear power generation as a national policy and is now effectively TEPCO’s major shareholder.

It should supervise and guide the company with the urgency and vigor required by the situation.

Factors that have aggravated the compensation negotiations include shortcomings in the guidelines. Established shortly after the accident, the guidelines, despite several revisions, are out of tune with the realities of the situations that have grown increasingly complicated and diversified over years due to lasting repercussions from the disaster.

The reconciliation committee should carefully examine the realities and start working to revamp the guidelines. The panel seems to be inclined to wait for court rulings on damages suits filed by some victims. But that would only cause further delays in providing relief to victims.

The committee’s own relevance is also at stake.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 6