Tepco caused suicide, wife tells court

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A lawsuit opened Wednesday against Tokyo Electric Power Co., with a Filipino woman from Fukushima Prefecture seeking about ¥126 million in damages over the death of her Japanese husband, who committed suicide when his business faltered after the Fukushima nuclear crisis started.

Vanessa Kanno is alleging that her depressed husband, Shigekiyo, hanged himself after his formerly thriving dairy business was decimated by the calamity. Amid growing fears over radioactive fallout shortly after the meltdown catastrophe started, the government issued a monthlong order suspending shipments of his milk due to alleged contamination. This, Kanno has argued, left the family with no source of income.

“I don’t hold any personal grudge against Tepco. I just want the company to help us. We’re desperate,” the widow told a news conference after the first lawsuit session before the Tokyo District Court.

Two months before the crisis, Shigekiyo Kanno had borrowed ¥5 million to build a new compost shed. But the disaster doomed any chance he had to repay it, further adding to his emotional distress, the plaintiff said.

In June 2011, Shigekiyo Kanno was found dead in the same shed with a message scribbled in chalk on a wall that told of his anger at nuclear power. Along with painful apologies to his family, it read: “If only there were no nuclear disasters . . .”

Vanessa Kanno said she and her two sons, 8 and 9, have been forced to live a difficult life since her husband’s suicide. The family has not received a dime from Tepco, which claims that since they lived in Soma — outside the government-designated evacuation zones — at the time of the disaster, they are not entitled to payouts.

Kanno is currently unemployed, and her family’s livelihood has hinged on her late husband’s insurance money and child-rearing allowances from the government.

“I can’t even imagine how harder my life is going to be when my kids grow older,” she said. “I wish the whole imbroglio will end soon, and want to hear the judgment by the court as soon as possible.”

Kanno’s lawyer, Yukuo Yasuda, claims the nuclear crisis dealt a direct financial blow to Shigekiyo Kanno’s farming business and thus Tepco should be held liable for his suicide.

Yasuda described Shigekiyo Kanno’s handwritten message as clear proof that correlations do exist between the disaster and his suicide.

Tepco, for its part, insists that the suicide was not foreseeable.

According to its written statement, Shigekiyo Kanno flew to the Philippines in late April 2011, where his wife and her kids had evacuated just after the disaster started, without telling anyone. During his absence, his neighbors took turns looking after his 40 cows, but with the prospect of his return unpredictable, relatives in Japan decided to hand the cows over to a livestock company in Chiba Prefecture.

By the time he returned, few were left, making continuing his dairy business virtually impossible.

Tepco believes the loss of most of his cows triggered his depression and that it shouldn’t be held responsible for a series of “unforeseeable” events, including the husband’s abrupt overseas trip and his “abandonment of breeding duty.”

“We will look into circumstances that led to his suicide once again, and together with opinions from experts, we will make sure to rebut Tepco’s claim,” Yasuda said.