Real estate firm denied payout over Tokai loss

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The Tokyo District Court on Monday rejected a damages claim against JCO Co. by a real estate operator for a plunge in property values following a nuclear accident in Tokai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

Ibaraki Kotsu Co. was seeking more than 1.8 billion yen in damages.

According to the suit filed in 2002, Ibaraki Kotsu said the prices of 709 lots it developed in Tokai fell significantly following a deadly nuclear fission accident at JCO’s nuclear fuel processing plant on Sept. 30, 1999.

The firm said it made a huge investment in the project because it trusted government assurances that nuclear energy was safe. But the nation’s worst radiation accident convinced people not to buy land in the area, prompting land prices to plummet.

Ibaraki Kotsu sought 1.87 billion yen based on the difference between the 270,000 yen per 3.3-sq.-meter value of land before the accident and the 210,000 yen per 3.3-sq.-meter lot afterward.

But presiding Judge Yoichi Sato said: “There is not enough evidence to recognize a causal relationship between the accident and the fall in land value. The plaintiff’s claim shall be dismissed.”

According to the court, the economic situation of Ibaraki Prefecture and the prefectural government’s inability to attract residents from other areas make it impossible to be certain if there is high demand for land in Tokai, or that the land in question could have sold for 270,000 yen per 3.3-sq.-meter lot.

The court did say the drop in price might have something to do with the nuclear accident, but that the effect has now almost disappeared.

An Ibaraki Kotsu official told a news conference after the ruling that before the court proceedings, the defendant and plaintiff agreed that the land had a value of 270,000 yen per 3.3 sq.-meter lot. He said he was displeased that the court did not recognize this and that Ibaraki Kotsu might appeal the case.

Kenkichi Nakadaira, a lawyer for Ibaraki Kotsu, said: “While nuclear energy brings benefits, there are also many dangers. Today’s ruling seemed to say the nuclear accident was no big deal, and that makes me extremely uneasy.”

The accident was caused by workers using buckets to handle uranium, bypassing government safety processes.