FUKUSHIMA – Nine years after the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant meltdown, plaintiffs who were forced to abandon their homes say they are exhausted from the prolonged legal battle over compensation for the disaster.
The suits have been prolonged chiefly by the difficulty of establishing evidence for damages claims linked to the triple core meltdown on Fukushima Prefecture’s coastline after the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami.
Plant manager Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. says it is willing to settle out of court through the alternative dispute resolution mechanism.
But Tepco has rejected many settlement proposals made through ADR, confusing the plaintiffs.
In a lawsuit filed with the Fukushima District Court in April 2016 by 54 residents of the Nakadori region, plaintiffs proposed a settlement in hopes of ending the suit early. Tepco declined.
The utility even appealed the court’s ruling last month that ordered it to pay damages, taking the suit to the Sendai High Court.
“We are disappointed by Tepco’s selfish stance,” said Ritsuko Ueki, a 73-year-old plaintiff.
After working as a teacher in Tokyo, she moved to the city of Fukushima in 2007 with her husband and retired.
Gardening was one of their hobbies, but after the nuclear crisis struck, they had to decontaminate their garden as fears mounted over radioactive fallout ejected by the stricken plant.
“We always think about the lawsuit. We’ve conveyed all our sorrows and suffering to Tepco,” she said. “There is nothing more we can do.”
In a collective ADR action initiated in 2013 by some 15,000 residents from the town of Namie, Tepco refused their proposals six times. The process was terminated in April 2018. A total of 864 plaintiffs had already died by then.
Tepco claimed that it could not accept unified compensation payments higher than the standards listed in the state-set interim guidelines for damages related to the crisis, which were released in August 2011.
A suit against Tepco filed after the termination of the 2018 case drew participation from only around 630 Namie residents.
The Namie Municipal Government is recommending that residents shift to individually launched alternative dispute resolution procedures, because Tepco tends to accept settlement proposals through that mechanism more than through collective procedures. But only around 1,000 residents have agreed to do this.
“Our residents are exhausted both physically and mentally. The termination of the collective (alternative dispute resolution) process has added to the uncertainty arising from their prolonged lives as evacuees,” said a Namie official in charge of compensation issues.
“Tepco should have accepted a settlement through the collective (ADR) process,” the official said.
The number of settlement proposals through collective alternative dispute resolutions that were rejected by Tepco started rising significantly in 2018. A total of 24 processes had been terminated by the end of the year.
In January 2019, six groups of lawyers in Fukushima Prefecture filed a petition with a central government board in the education ministry to screen disputes on nuclear damage compensation, asking the central government to review the interim guidelines and instruct Tepco to change its stance on alternative dispute resolution procedures.