April 5th, 2011
12:45 PM ET

Town near nuclear plant rejects Japanese utility's 'token' offer

Whitney Hurst

Tokyo (CNN) - Acknowledging the toll the unrelenting nuclear crisis has had on people's lives and livelihoods, the owner of Japan's stricken nuclear plant has offered money to some of those in the radiation's reach - an offer that one city decided to refuse.

An official with Tokyo Electric Power Company, which operates the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, said Tuesday that the utility made a "token" offer to residents in 10 communities near the plant.

Starting March 31, money began going out to those in nine of them. But the town of Namie rejected Tokyo Electric's offer, with a local official calling it too meager an attempt to make up for a drastically reduced quality of life and income.

"Our people are suffering, and unfortunately, everything we've built is gone," Mayor Tamotsu Baba told CNN.

"Where is our direct apology?" Baba asked. "Because the cash certainly doesn't amount to much."

Tokyo Electric says the amount is an initial token payment, not compensation for losses sustained as a result of the nuclear accident at Fukushima Daiichi. They promise that will come later - after they have assessed the damage from the accident, which has spread radioactive contamination across much of the surrounding area.

The company called the initial offer "payment for their troubles," and would not detail how much money is being offered to each community. But Kousei Negishi, who is the manager of general affairs for Namie, said that it was 20 million yen - about $12 for each of Namie's roughly 20,000 residents.

That amount of cash, said Negishi, is "not enough." And it is logistically difficult to force local governments to distribute the money, which he said should be Tokyo Electric's responsibility.

Several officials from Fukushima, the prefecture that includes the crippled plant, took their complaints about the company and the evacuation zone to Prime Minister Naoto Kan's Tokyo office Tuesday afternoon.

"We don't know if TEPCO understands what we're going through," said Katsuya Endo, the mayor of Tomioka, one of the towns that has been evacuated since the accident.

The company said Tuesday that would be worked out between the power company and the Japanese government, which has pledged to support Japan's largest utility in the crisis.

One week ago, a report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch estimated Tokyo Electric will face compensation claims of 1 trillion Japanese yen (about $12.13 billion) if the recovery effort takes two months, the financial company's Tokyo spokesman Takayuki Inoue told CNN. That figure would rise to 2.4 trillion to 3 trillion yen if the process takes six months, and up to 10 trillion yen if the recovery takes two years, according to the report.

Most likely, tens of thousands of people will have a legitimate claim to this cash. They'll include those who haven't been able to work, who have been forced out of their homes or who otherwise have had their lives turned upside down in the problem-plagued, complicated struggle to contain the emission of radiation into the air, ground and water from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

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