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Owner of nuclear plant to pay evacuees $1B

TOKYO -- The owner of the tsunami-damaged nuclear plant will pay an estimated $1 billion to thousands of residents who evacuated homes near the radiation-leaking plant and don't yet know when they can return.

Compensation that Tokyo Electric Power Co. ultimately may pay for the world's second-worst nuclear disaster is expected to be trillions of yen.

Last week, Japan's cabinet approved a bill to help TEPCO meet the massive costs, and parliamentary approval is pending. It would establish a fund from public money and contributions from utilities and special government bonds.

The estimate TEPCO released yesterday is in addition to $623 million paid in preliminary compensation to 50,000 households in late May.

TEPCO said it is preparing to distribute the latest compensation to about 150,000 people forced to evacuate areas around the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant, which leaked radiation after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami destroyed its power and crucial cooling systems.

The estimate is based on criteria adopted by a government panel this week -- up to $1,500 per month to each family for the first six months, a reduced $625 per month each for another six months.

TEPCO is also preparing to pay separate compensation to fishermen, farmers and agriculture cooperatives, and others who have suffered because of disaster. Those figures are not available yet.

Yesterday, the Iitate village office moved into the prefectural government office in Fukushima City after more than 6,000 residents evacuated the village, which was designated as high-risk for long-term radiation exposure.

"I hope we can all return to our homes as soon as possible," village chief Norio Kanno told reporters.

At the plant, workers are struggling to get a crucial water treatment system fully operational. Water being pumped into the reactors to keep them cool becomes contaminated with radiation, and 110,000 tons of radiation-tainted water have pooled across the plant.

It could overflow within 10 days if action is not taken.

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