National / Crime & Legal

Japan and Tepco again ordered to pay damages to Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees

Kyodo

A district court Wednesday ordered the state and the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to pay a combined ¥419 million ($3.78 million) in damages to evacuees from the 2011 nuclear disaster.

The order by the Yokohama District Court was the eighth such decision against Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. and the fifth against the central government.

Most of the 175 plaintiffs were forced to evacuate from Fukushima to Kanagawa Prefecture, near Tokyo, following the disaster, which was triggered by a massive earthquake and tsunami. They had sought a combined ¥5.4 billion from the utility and the state.

Presiding Judge Ken Nakadaira said the nuclear accident was preventable as the state could have foreseen as of September 2009, based on a projection by experts, that a massive tsunami similar to one that occurred in the ninth century could strike the area again and cause a complete power blackout at the plant.

He said it would have been “possible by the end of 2010” to implement steps such as installing emergency power generators that would have prevented damage to core reactors as well as hydrogen explosions that led to the release of massive amounts of radioactive materials outside the plant.

Nakadaira also criticized the state for its assessment before the disaster that Tepco’s anti-tsunami measures were adequate, saying it was a serious “mistake and failure.”

The ruling awarded compensation to 152 of the 175 plaintiffs, of whom 50 had evacuated voluntarily and 125 were forced to do so. They had each demanded ¥350,000 per month and compensation of ¥20 million for psychological damage due to “the loss of their hometown” in addition to compensation already paid by Tepco.

The ruling was the eighth among approximately 30 similar suits filed by more than 10,000 evacuees. The state became a defendant together with Tepco in six cases and was exempted from compensation claims in only one ruling, which was handed down by the Chiba District Court in September 2017.

The Fukushima No. 1 plant spewed a massive amount of radioactive materials after the tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake, flooded the facility, causing multiple meltdowns and hydrogen explosions at the complex.

At the Yokohama court, the plaintiffs argued that the state and Tepco could have anticipated the accident based on data including the government’s 2002 long-term assessment of major quakes. They also claimed the nuclear operator neglected to take precautionary measures and that the government failed to order the utility to do so.

The state and Tepco countered that they could not have foreseen a tsunami on such a scale.

Following the Fukushima crisis, which was said to equal the severity of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, some 160,000 people fled at one point. Over 32,000 people remained evacuated outside of the prefecture as of January this year.