• Kyodo

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The Mito District Court on Tuesday dismissed a damages suit filed by a seafood processing firm in Ibaraki Prefecture against JCO Co., the operator of the uranium processing plant where Japan’s worst nuclear accident occurred in September 1999.

Kajima Suisan had demanded that JCO, a subsidiary of Sumitomo Metal Mining Co., pay 37 million yen in compensation, charging that consumers shunned the prefecture’s products out of radiation fears.

In handing down the ruling, presiding Judge Koichiro Matsumoto said there was insufficient evidence to determine damage had been inflicted.

“There is no sign (that the firm) tried to sell its products elsewhere, and the products were carelessly burned,” he said.

Matsumoto ordered the firm to return 9.18 million yen JCO had already paid in compensation.

It was the first ruling given on a damages claim arising from the accident on Sept. 30, 1999, at a JCO facility in the village of Tokai.

The accident was caused by three plant workers who sidestepped safety procedures and poured an excessive amount of uranium into a mixing tank, triggering a nuclear fission chain reaction. Two of the workers died.

According to the plaintiff, after the accident occurred, Kajima Suisan’s business partners refused its products, including frozen shrimp and crab they had ordered.

Kajima Suisan maintained that it was forced to incinerate the products, which caused the company to lose 37 million yen, the lawsuit said.

But JCO insisted that it had checked the incinerator and concluded that Kajima Suisan had not incinerated such a large amount of products. JCO then demanded that the firm return the money it had already paid in compensation.

Representatives for JCO later said they were glad the court acknowledged their point of view.

The illegal mixing procedure exposed more than 600 people to radiation.

Since the 1999 accident, JCO has so far paid 14.85 billion yen in compensation to thousands of companies and farmers in areas around the uranium fuel plant to cover damage the accident has allegedly caused their businesses.

Eight lawsuits, including the one by Kajima Suisan, were filed against JCO after compensation talks between the firm and the affected parties broke down.

JCO settled one of the other cases by paying a total of 100 million yen to two local fisheries processing firms.

The six remaining cases are still pending at the Mito and Tokyo district courts.

They include a 1.8 billion yen damage suit filed by a local transport firm, which claims that the price of land plots owned by the firm in Tokai collapsed due to the accident, as well as another 1.8 billion yen suit by a major “natto” fermented beans maker in Ibaraki Prefecture over suspended shipments.

Other cases include a couple in the city of Hitachi in the prefecture who sued JCO and its parent firm last September, claiming health damage from radiation exposure.

JCO has refused to pay any financial compensation for health damage to residents around the Tokai plant, and has argued that the incident has no causal relationship with the health problems and stress disorders claimed by the Hitachi couple.

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