Japan’s nuclear regulator will increase its number of legal staff from this spring to deal with lawsuits related to the Fukushima crisis, sources close to the matter said Wednesday.
The secretariat of the Nuclear Regulation Authority will increase the number of staff at an office in charge of litigation to 22 in the fiscal year starting in April from the current 17. In fiscal 2012, when the body was launched, it only had five employees, the source said.
The secretariat said it was handling a total of 45 lawsuits as of March 1, of which 29 had been filed by over 10,000 plaintiffs nationwide including evacuees and victims of the Fukushima accident who are seeking damages from the state.
Among those 29 lawsuits, four of the five district courts that have already handed down rulings ordered the state to pay damages to the plaintiffs, rejecting the state’s claim that the accident “could not be foreseen.”
A lawyer representing the plaintiffs has criticized the expansion move, saying the state should not insist on fighting the lawsuits.
Izutaro Managi, a member of a lawyers’ group representing some 3,800 evacuees and accident victims in a lawsuit seeking damages from the state and the operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, said, “The aim of the authority’s secretariat is to strengthen the state’s claim that it is not liable for causing the accident.”
“The state should rather reflect on the accident and accept its responsibility,” he said.
In addition to lawsuits related to the Fukushima evacuees and victims, the secretariat is also handling lawsuits filed by residents seeking to halt operations at nuclear plants or the construction of new ones.
New lawsuits could also be filed in the future as more nuclear power plants clear safety assessments by the authority to resume operations. Currently, 14 reactors at seven nuclear power plants have passed screenings under stricter regulations imposed after the Fukushima crisis triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.