Tokyo (CNN) – The owners of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi power plant must start paying 1 million yen ($12,000) to households displaced or forced indoors by the nuclear accident there, Japan’s government ordered Friday.
The Tokyo Electric Power Company will start handing out checks “as smoothly and as early as possible,” hopefully by April 28, its president, Masataku Shimizu, told reporters. Individual residents will receive 750,000 yen and households will get 1 million, Shimizu said, with the company’s interim cost estimated at about $600 million.
A government committee ordered the payments as an advance on the compensation that Tokyo Electric will owe nearby residents and businesses for the month-old crisis at Fukushima Daiichi, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said Friday. Edano said the government hopes to have payments in residents’ hands by Japan’s “Golden Week,” a string of national holidays that begins in April 29.
About 78,000 people living within 20 km (12.5 miles) of the plant were ordered out of their homes in the days after the March 11 accident, which now is ranked at the top of the international scale for nuclear disasters. Those living another 10 km out were told to remain indoors as the plant belched radioactive particles into the environment from three damaged reactors.
Monday, Japanese authorities told residents of five municipalities in that outer belt and beyond to evacuate within a month, due to lower levels of radioactive contamination that are likely to pose a long-term health hazard. Other towns have been put on notice that evacuations may be required soon, bringing the total number of people directly affected so far to about 146,000, according to Japanese government estimates.
Edano, the government’s point man on the crisis, said officials still are working on an overall framework to compensate farmers, fishermen and other business owners who have been idled by the disaster.
Tokyo Electric has no timetable for resolving the accident, and the yet-unknown cost of compensation has called the survival of Japan’s largest utility into question. The Japanese government has agreed to support the company to keep power flowing to its 25 million customers without big rate increases, Deputy Finance Minister Fumikiko Igarashi told CNN, but he said a government takeover of the utility was unlikely.
“The way the government will approach that is still in the decision process,” Igarashi said.
The utility reported 2010 profits of more than 1.4 trillion yen ($17 billion).
Plant workers have been battling to cool the overheated cores of reactors 1-3 at Fukushima Daiichi, about 240 km (150 miles) north of Tokyo. The plant was swamped by the tsunami that followed March 11’s historic earthquake, knocking out normal coolant systems.
At the plant on Friday, efforts continued to drain highly radiaoctive water from the basements and service tunnels of the reactor units’ turbine plants — a necessary first step to restoring normal cooling systems. Japanese authorities drew the ire of fishermen and some of their country’s neighbors by authorizing the dumping of thousands of tons of less-contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean last week.
The 10,000-plus ton discharge was billed as an emergency measure aimed at making room for the more dangerous fluid, some of which is believed to be leaking from the No. 2 reactor. More than 9,000 of that came from a waste treatment facility at the plant, which could hold up to 30,000 tons now that it’s empty, Tokyo Electric officials said.
Crews have been laying fresh pipes to the treatment center and hope to start transferring water from unit 2 on Sunday, the company said. But its capacity could be only a fraction of the volume now sloshing around in the turbine building basements, and engineers are still pouring hundreds of tons of water into the reactors every day to keep them cool.
Susan Olson and CNN’s Paula Hancocks contributed to this report for CNN.