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Tepco to compensate displaced citizens

Japan’s government said today it had ordered the operator of the tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant embroiled in the country’s worst-ever atomic crisis to pay about £7,300 to each household forced to evacuate because of radiation leaks.

Trade Ministry spokesman Hiroaki Wada said Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) had been told to pay the compensation as soon as possible. Individuals forced to evacuate would get about £5,500.

He said the arrangement was provisional, with more compensation expected. Around 48,000 households living within about 19 miles of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant would be eligible for the payments.

“There are around 150 evacuation centres alone. It will take some time until everyone gets money. But we want the company to quickly do this to support people’s lives,” trade minister Banri Kaieda said.

Tepco is still struggling to stabilise the nuclear plant, which saw its cooling systems fail after a magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11 triggered a massive tsunami that wrecked emergency back-up systems as well as much of the plant’s regular equipment.

Radiation leaks from the crisis have contaminated crops and left fishermen in the region unable to sell their catches, a huge blow to an area heavily dependent on fishing and farming.

The governor of Fukushima, Yuhei Sato, has vigorously criticised both Tepco and the government for their handling of the disaster, demanding faster action.

“This is just a beginning. The accident has not ended. We will continue to ask the government and Tepco to fully compensate evacuees,” he said.

Nearly 140,000 people are still living in shelters after losing their homes or being advised to evacuate because of concerns about radiation.

Seeking to console evacuees, Japan’s emperor visited the country’s disaster zone for the first time yesterday.

In Asahi, about 90km east of Tokyo, where 13 people were killed and some 3,000 homes damaged, Emperor Akihito, 77, and Empress Michiko got their first look at the devastation, gazing sombrely at a plot of land where a home once stood and also commiserating with evacuees at two shelters.

The royal couple kneeled on mats to speak quietly with the survivors, who bowed in gratitude and wiped away tears. One evacuee with Down’s syndrome, who has trouble speaking, wrote “I will keep striving” in a small notebook that he showed to the emperor and empress.

Even as the month-old emergency dragged on, radiation levels dropped enough for police sealed in white protective suits, goggles and blue gloves to begin searching for bodies amid the muddy debris inside a six-mile radius around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant that had been off-limits.

Authorities believe up to 1,000 bodies are lodged in the debris. A police spokesman, who gave only the surname Sato, said searchers were working to recover three of the 10 bodies they located yesterday, trapped in cars or debris.

The bodies of only about 13,500 of the more than 26,000 people believed killed in the March 11 disaster have been recovered, with most thought to have been washed out to sea.

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