Thousands sue nuclear companies over Fukushima disaster

AFP-JIJI

A class-action lawsuit against nuclear suppliers General Electric Co., Toshiba Corp. and Hitachi Ltd. has ballooned to more than 4,000 claimants seeking damages over the Fukushima crisis, according to the lead lawyer.

The claimants, hailing from Japan and 32 other countries, including the United States, Germany and South Korea, want the U.S. and Japanese nuclear power plant suppliers to pay compensation, lawyer Akihiro Shima told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday.

His comments came one day after the third anniversary of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a generation.

The filing — which asks for a symbolic ¥100 per claimant — was described by Shima as the first lawsuit to be brought against nuclear power plant suppliers over the 2011 disaster.

It alleges that the firms did not make necessary safety updates to Fukushima No. 1 before it was swamped by tsunami. Embattled operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. is facing massive lawsuits and compensation costs.

“General Electric, Toshiba and Hitachi failed to implement safety improvements to the 4-decades-old boiling water reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant,” a statement issued Wednesday alleged. “The lawsuit is intended to bring attention to the system that protects the nuclear industry around the world.”

The lawsuit was first filed in the Tokyo District Court in January with a little more than 1,000 claimants. Many more have joined as word has spread.

Under Japanese law, nuclear plant suppliers are usually exempt from damages claims in the event of an accident.

“It is not our policy to comment on pending legal actions,” GE’s Japanese unit said in a statement. But it added that the plant, which GE helped design, “has performed reliably for more than 40 years.”

It also cited a Japanese government report which “concluded that the accident was caused by the tsunami, and the resulting loss of seawater pumps and all electrical power, not reactor design.”

Toshiba and Hitachi both declined to comment.

The magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11, 2011, sent massive tsunami barreling into the Pacific coastline, sweeping away more than 18,000 victims and destroying coastal communities.

The huge waves swamped cooling systems at Fukushima No. 1, sparking reactor meltdowns and explosions that spewed radioactive materials across wide areas.

Although no one died as a direct result of the nuclear accident, at least 1,656 Fukushima residents have died due to complications related to stress and other conditions.

Tens of thousands were forced to evacuate the area and may never be able to return home.