June 21, 2012


As of today, the Nuclear Accident Child Victims’ Law (formally known as the law to develop policy to provide protection and support to victims, particularly children, of the Tokyo Electric Power nuclear accident) was established in the Diet.

The full text of the law can be viewed here (in Japanese): https://dl.dropbox.com.u/23151586/120617_shienho_bill.pdf

To view updates on discussions of the House of Representatives Special Committee on Earthquake Recovery, click on the following link (in Japanese): http://togetter.com/li/323441

The significance of this law, as well as associated issues of concern, will be explored below through a Q&A format.


Q1: What is the process by which this law was established?
Q2: Why is this law necessary?
Q3: What is the primary significance of this law?
Q4: Are medical fee remissions only for children and pregnant women?
Q5: What will happen to medical fees for children once they get older?
Q6: In order to receive medical fee remissions, will victims have to prove that their health problems were in fact caused by the nuclear disaster?
Q7: What will be the target region for support?
Q8: Which ministry will be responsible for implementing this law?
Q9: The ideals that are written into this law are admirable, but are the proposed schemes realistically possible?


Q1: What is the process by which this law was established?

A1: Earlier in the Diet, a bill was proposed by opposition parties for the “promotion of the protection of child victims of the nuclear disaster.” More recently, a similar bill for the “life support for victims of the nuclear disaster” was proposed by the ruling Democratic Party.

In the plan proposed by the opposition parties, children and pregnant women were the target populations for support. Planned efforts for support included the preventative measures against health impacts, medical cost remissions, temporary evacuation for children and pregnant women during decontamination efforts, and safety testing of school lunches.

In the plan proposed by the Democratic Party, all victims of the nuclear disaster were designated as the target population, rather than children and pregnant women in particular. The plan proposed to identify target regions for support efforts, providing for plans to assist those remaining in, evacuating from, or returning to these regions.

These two bills were repeatedly discussed, and a proposal involving input from all parties was ultimately drafted and submitted to the Diet.



Q2: Why is this law necessary?

A2: Relief efforts for those suffering the consequences of the nuclear disaster were not progressing, and there was no movement towards establishing the rights of such people. Many who had no choice but to evacuate continue to experience great financial difficulty and face hardships in adjusting to new environments. While the government designated regions of contamination greater than 20mSv/year as compulsory evacuation zones, many people outside of such regions also chose to evacuate. There remain many who wish to evacuate but cannot.

The compensation guidelines as provided by the government (the Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) were utterly inadequate in providing any substantial relief to such people who evacuated or wished to evacuate. Moreover, there were virtually no measures for avoiding or reducing radiation exposure, and health insurance and health examinations for addressing current and future health concerns were limited to Fukushima prefecture (The Act on Special Measures for Fukushima Reconstruction and Revitalization
).

The countless voices of concern and dissatisfaction with such conditions served as a powerful driving force for the creation of this law. While many Diet members were involved, particularly significant contributors throughout the process included Kuniko Tanioka and Satoshi Arai of the Democratic Party, Ryuhei Kawada of Minnano Tou (“everyone’s party”), Masako Mori of the Liberal Democratic Party, and Tadatomo Yoshida and Tomoko Abe of the Social Democratic Party.


Q3: What is the primary significance of this law?

This law aims to provide widespread support for citizens suffering impacts of the nuclear disaster. It considers the right of citizens to choose to remain where they are, evacuate, or to return to their original home. It further calls for the prevention of health impacts on children in particular (including fetuses), and guarantees health examinations and medical fee remissions for certain victims. Other notable components of the law are listed below:

・Article 3 specifies that the national government bears social responsibility for having
promoted nuclear power.

·The designated “target region of support” will cover a larger area than the current designation (Article 8 section 1), and support efforts will be aimed at residents as well as evacuees of this region.

·Support efforts for residents of the target region are to secure medical care, support for children’s school attendance, food safety at home and in schools, access to outdoor physical activity, and to support children whose families have split up to live in different areas as a result of the disaster. Evacuees of the target region are to receive support in moving to a new area, securing a new residence, continuing studies and finding employment.

·Children in both populations (residents as well as evacuees of the target region) are to receive assistance in continuing education, as well as support in dealing with split family living situations (Article 8 and 9).

Particular attention will be paid to the implementation of Article 13, which offers thorough examinations and medical care for health issues related to radiation exposure.

·Section 2 of Article 13 stipulates that victims will receive regular health checkups, and that children will be able to continue to receive such checkups throughout their life.

“At the very least, concrete steps will be taken to provide lifelong health checkups for children who lived in areas of consistently high contamination levels (including unborn children whose mothers lived in such areas).” (Article 13 Section 2)

·Section 3 of Article 13 covers provisions for medical fee remissions. This will be discussed in questions 4 and 5.

The content of this law was largely inspired by the Chernobyl Law that was established in 1991 in countries neighboring the Chernobyl power plant. This law designated regions of additional yearly radiation doses above 1mSv as zones in which residents have the “right to relocation”, while regions of cumulative radiation exposure above 5mSv/year were designated as “compulsory evacuation zones”.

This past May, Aleksandr Velikin, an instrumental contributor to the development of the Chernobyl Law, visited Japan and held lectures on the ideologies and spirit of the law, as well as on the process by which it was created.

Special lecture by Aleksandr Velikin: “A history of the struggle to win the right to relocation: The road to the creation of the Chernobyl Law”: http://hinan-kenri.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2012/05/a-c939.html


Q4: Are medical fee remissions only for children and pregnant women?

A4: “Medical fee remissions may also be granted to victims other than children and pregnant women in certain cases,” as was stated by Diet members who originally proposed the bill. As discussed below, Section 3 of Article 3 specifies that medical fee remissions will be given to children and pregnant women, but guidelines for other adults are left unclear.

“The government will implement policy to help reduce expenses for children and pregnant women when they seek medical care (excluding costs for injuries and sicknesses that did not result from nuclear radiation from the disaster), and to assist victims in accessing adequate medical care.”

This May, several citizen groups submitted formal appeals with signatures regarding various components of the bill, one of which demanded for medical fee remissions to be granted to adults as well.

For more information, click on the following link:
http://hinan-kenri.cocolog-nifty.com/blog/2012/05/post-9a8b.html


Q5: What will happen to medical fees for children once they get older?

A5: Children who reside in a contaminated area, or at some point lived in a contaminated area (including fetuses) are to be eligible for lifelong reductions in medical fees, according to discussions within the Diet. However, this is not specified within the text of the law, so it will be necessary to add this provision in writing in the future.


Q6: In order to receive medical fee remissions, will victims have to prove that their health problems were in fact caused by the nuclear disaster?

A6: Victims will not have to bear the burden of proof. This decision was largely based on the extensive struggles shouldered by the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as well as of Minamata disease.

If one’s sickness is deemed “unrelated to exposure to nuclear radiation”, it will be the government’s responsibility to bear the burden of proof.

As stated in section 3 of Article 13,

“The government will implement policy to help reduce expenses for children and pregnant women when they seek medical care (excluding costs for injuries and sicknesses that did not result from nuclear radiation from the disaster), and to assist victims in accessing adequate medical care.”

Again, the government will be responsible for proving the lack of causation in the cases referred to within the parenthesis.


Q7: What will be the target region of support?

A7: Section 1 of Article 8 addresses the guidelines for determining the target region.

“Such regions will include those that are below contamination levels associated with compulsory evacuation, but that do have a certain level of contamination.”

Currently, regions of contamination greater than 20mSv/year require evacuation, so the target region of support will be above a “certain level of contamination” but below 20mSv/year.

Discussions within the Diet concluded that the government would strive to set this “certain level of contamination” below the 1mSv/year level, based on the permissible limit of radiation exposure to the general public as stated by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). The Diet further stipulated that the process of setting this “certain level of contamination” would “take into account victims’ opinions and the actual conditions of the contaminated regions, in order to avoid further segregating and burdening victims.”

These provisions will be incorporated into the enforcement policies in Article 5.


Q8: Which ministry will be responsible for implementing this law?

A8: Various ministries and government offices will be involved in implementing this law. For example, the Reconstruction Agency will be responsible for basic policy development; the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) will be in charge of investigations related to nuclear radiation; the Ministry of the Environment will be responsible for addressing environmental contamination; the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) will help evacuees secure housing; and the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will assist evacuees with employment. This being said, in order to make sure that responsibilities do not become unclear or mixed up, a new parliamentary group will be created to “thoroughly monitor” the progress of implementation.


Q9: The ideals that are written into this law are admirable, but are the proposed schemes realistically possible?

It is true that this law is more or less a “program law”, only putting forth principles and frameworks to later be turned into concrete ordinances and guidelines for enforcement.

The government is to create basic policy for outlining the target region and for providing life support to victims. Throughout this process, voices of the victims themselves will be sought after and considered. However, citizens must pay close attention to this process in order to make sure that the target region for support is large enough, and that adequate and thorough support efforts are actually carried out.

Currently, several citizen groups are calling for all regions above 1mSv/year to be considered as target regions of support, and are collecting signatures to pursue this goal. Please consider getting involved.

“Signatures for protecting the lives and livelihoods of victims of the nuclear disaster”:
https://pro.form-mailer.jp/fms/2a8fa13c28232


(By Kanna Mitsuta, FoE Japan)



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