Tokyo Electric Power has conceded the Fukushima nuclear meltdown disaster played a part in a farmer’s 2011 suicide, lawyers said Thursday, its first admission of culpability in such a case.
The utility has reached an out-of-court settlement with the family of Hisashi Tarukawa, a Fukushima farmer who took his own life 12 days after three reactors at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant experienced core meltdowns, spewing radioactive fallout across wide regions, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate and sending the local farming and fisheries industries into tailspins.
It was the first time Tepco has accepted in a settlement that the nuclear disaster at its plant was a factor in a suicide, the lawyers said, adding that the terms of the settlement package were not being made public.
The government has officially recognized that at least 80 people had committed suicide as of last December because of the Fukushima disaster.
Tarukawa, 64, hanged himself from a tree in a vegetable field after authorities banned shipments of some farm produce from Fukushima because of fears it was radioactive.
“I just didn’t want Tepco to keep saying no one was killed because of the nuclear accident,” said Kazuya Tarukawa, the dead man’s 37-year-old son.
He said he still wanted the company to make an official apology for his father’s suicide.
“Does Tepco think everything is finished if money is paid?” he asked.
“I want them to come to my house under the name of the company and bow to my father’s altar. My fight is not over yet.”
Lawyer Izutaro Managi said companies facing lawsuits are often reluctant to give official apologies for fear that this could be interpreted as an admission of full culpability.
Tepco declined comment on the details of the settlement.
Fukushima was the site of the worst nuclear crisis in a generation. The three reactors went into meltdown, spewing radiation over a wide area, after a 9.0-magnitude quake triggered massive tsunami that overran the poorly protected atomic plant on March 11, 2011.
Although the natural disaster that spawned the nuclear emergency claimed more than 18,000 lives, no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the meltdown catastrophe.
However, tens of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and businesses in the area around the site, and many remain evacuated, with scientists warning some places may have to be abandoned forever.
The cash-strapped operator of the crippled plant, which remains in a precarious state, faces growing compensation claims from Fukushima victims, including the relatives of suicide victims like Tarukawa.
Last month, the 35-year-old widow of a cattle farmer filed a lawsuit against Tepco, demanding ¥126 million in damages after her husband killed himself when he was ordered to stop shipments of milk due to the disaster.
Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, according to the OECD, with around 30,000 people taking their lives each year.
Doctors have warned that the earthquake-tsunami and nuclear crises were resulting in higher than usual incidences of mental health problems, noting the uptick in suicides in the region was probably a consequence.