Tokyo Electric Power ordered to pay ¥1m to families forced from their homes due to nuclear crisis after quake and tsunami
Evacuation centre
© Wally Santana/APThousands of people with homes near Fukushima Daiichi have been forced into evacuation centres outside the expanded 30km exclusion zone around the nuclear plant.
Japan's government has ordered the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to compensate tens of thousands of households forced to evacuate due to radiation leaks.

As many as 50,000 households within 30km (19 miles) of the plant will be eligible for provisional damages, which have been set at ¥1m (£7,300) per family and ¥750,000 for single-person households.

The bill will reach ¥50bn, the president of Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), Masataka Shimizu, told reporters. Additional compensation claims expected from farmers and fishermen who have had their livelihoods destroyed could see the total rise much higher.

Tens of thousands of people were forced to leave last month after the government evacuated areas within 20km of the facility, where engineers are still confronted with huge amounts of radioactive water and overheating reactors. Earlier this week the government said it would expand the no-go zone to five communities further from the plant where radiation levels could pose a long-term threat to health.

The firm has come under mounting pressure to compensate residents forced to move to evacuation centres around the country. With no end in sight to the crisis, government officials are unable to say when or if the residents will be able to return.

Processing the payments is expected to take time given the geological spread of evacuees, but Japan's trade ministry insisted the payments would be made "as soon as possible". "There are around 150 evacuation centres, so it will take time until everyone gets their money," the trade minister, Banri Kaieda, said. "But we want the company to support those people quickly."

Meanwhile, health officials have been advised to collect blood from the hundreds of plant workers operating in hazardous areas in case they require stem cell transplants due to exposure to dangerous levels of radiation.

Writing in the medical research journal Lancet, Japanese experts said the blood samples would provide a source of stem cells that could be used to rebuild bone marrow in the event of accidental exposure. "The danger of a future accidental radiation exposure is not passed, since there has been a series of serious aftershocks even this April," wrote Dr Shuichi Taniguchi, of Toranomon hospital in Tokyo, and Dr Tetsuya Tanimoto, of the Japanese Foundation for Cancer Research.

Collecting blood from the workers would rule out the need to find matching donors, whose cells could be rejected, and minimise the chances of infection. Japan's nuclear safety commission has so far resisted calls to harvest blood to avoid causing panic among the workers, the men claimed.

On Thursday, police officers in protective suits, goggles and gloves, entered areas within 10km of the plant to recover the bodies of people who had been left where they died in last month's earthquake and tsunami. By Friday, police said they had identified 10 bodies and were working to free them from the debris. There are thought to be as many as 1,000 bodies inside the zone.

The agreement to pay compensation comes as speculation grows over Tepco's future. The company is the most reviled in Japan, but the government appears to have concluded that it cannot be allowed to fail.

The Nikkei business newspaper said the government was considering setting up a state-backed insurance fund to keep the firm afloat and enable it to pay damages. The government would pay the bill initially, with the utility expected to repay the sum over several years.

Full nationalisation of the firm now appears unlikely. Tepco has lost more than three-quarters of its market value over the past five weeks and JP Morgan estimates it could be saddled with a compensation bill of up to ¥2tn in the current financial year. Bank of America-Merrill Lynch warned the total damages payout could soar to $130bn (£80bn) unless there is a quick end to the crisis.

Other ideas being floated would cap Tepco's liabilities at between ¥2tn to ¥3.8tn and spread the remaining costs among the state and other utilities.