The Kyoto District Court has ordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to pay about ¥30 million to a couple for economic and health damage caused by their decision to voluntarily flee the radiation in Fukushima Prefecture after the disaster.
The husband lost his job and developed a mental illness during the ordeal.
This is believed to be the first time a court has found Tokyo Electric Power Co. liable for damages stemming from a voluntary evacuation after the plant’s triple core meltdown, which was triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011.
The ruling is expected to affect similar lawsuits filed by voluntary evacuees across the country.
According to the Fukushima Prefectural Government, as of the end of October, some 18,000 people in 7,000 households who lived outside the designated evacuation zone remain evacuated outside Fukushima.
The sum awarded is also far more than the ¥11 million proposed by a government-established center that mediates out-of-court settlements for nuclear accident compensation cases. The settlement program is called ADR.
The center is for people who are not covered by Tepco’s direct compensation scheme. The ADR program is also aimed at reaching conclusions more quickly than through Tepco. Some 18,000 applications for settlement have been made, out of which 13,000 cases have been resolved. But the amount awarded through ADR tends to be small, experts say.
Hideaki Omori, the lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the ruling “set an example that there is no need to give up when evacuees do not feel satisfied with the sum” presented by the dispute resolution center.
The couple — who had moved twice before settling down in the city of Kyoto in May 2011 — had sought ¥180 million in damages.
The plaintiffs, who are in their 40s, expressed relief after the ruling.
“We are relieved that we will be financially alright for a while, but we still can’t imagine our future life,” they said in a statement released through their lawyers.
According to the written complaint, the husband became unable to work because he developed pleurisy (a respiratory disease) and depression after the evacuation. Their children also experienced emotional distress from being harshly treated by classmates because they came from Fukushima Prefecture.
The court also showed for the first time that such compensation should be extended for evacuation through the end of August 2012, rejecting claims for damages after that.
The court cited the gradual fall in radiation levels in the city of Koriyama, where the couple originally lived before the disaster, concluding that from September 2012 on, the levels were not serious enough to damage health.
After three reactors experienced meltdowns during the disaster, residents within 20 km of the nuclear plant and some areas beyond were ordered to evacuate. Many others also fled at their own discretion and remain in temporary housing.
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