FUKUSHIMA – A court on Tuesday ordered the state and the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 atomic plant to pay a total of about ¥500 million in damages for the 2011 nuclear disaster, the second ruling of its kind in a series of group lawsuits filed nationwide.
The Fukushima District Court ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay ¥500 million to about 2,900 of the 3,800 plaintiffs, many of whom stayed at their homes in Fukushima Prefecture and elsewhere in the midst of one of the world’s worst nuclear crises.
In the ruling, presiding Judge Hideki Kanazawa concluded that the government and Tepco are both to blame for failing to take steps to counter the risk of a huge tsunami caused by an earthquake, as they were able to foresee the risk based on an assessment issued in 2002.
“The government’s inaction in exercising its regulatory authority (to order Tepco to take safety measures) was extremely unreasonable,” Kanazawa said.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority’s secretariat said it will consult with other government offices on whether to appeal the ruling.
Tepco also said it would study the ruling to consider its response.
The plaintiffs, the largest group among around 30 similar suits, filed lawsuits in the wake of the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex, which was triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing tsunami that hit the Tohoku coastline.
Among the lawsuits, three rulings have been handed down so far, and two of them — the latest by the Fukushima court and one handed down by the Maebashi District Court in March — found that both the state and Tepco are liable for damages.
In the latest case, the plaintiffs claimed the government should be held liable because it was able to foresee the tsunami based on the 2002 assessment.
In the Fukushima ruling, the judge said the government and Tepco should have been able to foresee the possibility that the plant could be hit by up to 15.7-meter-high tsunami based on the 2002 assessment.
The assessment, made by the government’s Earthquake Research Promotion Unit, predicted a 20 percent chance of a magnitude 8 tsunami-triggering earthquake occurring along the Japan Trench in the Pacific Ocean within 30 years, including the area off Fukushima.
The government and Tepco claimed the assessment was not established knowledge and that the tsunami could not have been foreseen. The government also argued that it only obtained powers to force Tepco to take anti-flooding measures after a legislative change following the disaster.
The plaintiffs also urged restoring the radiation levels in residential areas to levels before the accident. They sought a monthly compensation of ¥50,000 until radiation levels return to the pre-crisis level of 0.04 microsieverts per hour.
The magnitude 9 earthquake and ensuing tsunami devastated parts of the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, causing multiple meltdowns and hydrogen blasts at the nuclear power plant.
Around 55,000 evacuees were still scattered inside and outside of Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of August.
More than 10,000 people have joined the roughly 30 suits filed at courts across the country.