SAPPORO – A court ordered the government and the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant Tuesday to pay a combined ¥52.9 million ($513,000) in damages to 89 people who evacuated from their hometowns to Hokkaido after the 2011 nuclear disaster.
The Sapporo District Court ruling marked the seventh case where both the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. were ordered to pay damages, out of 11 cases brought against the two parties. In the four other cases, only Tepco was ordered to pay damages.
It was also the 15th decision handed down among around 30 similar damages suits filed across Japan over one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters, which were triggered by the massive earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
A total of 257 plaintiffs, 90 percent of whom at the time were living in the city of Fukushima and other locations outside of areas where evacuation orders were issued, had sought a combined ¥4.24 billion from the utility and the state.
“While (the ruling) is a sign of recognition of the government’s responsibility, it doesn’t reflect the actual lives that those who evacuated to Hokkaido have led,” a lawyer representing the plaintiffs told reporters after the court decision.
Following the ruling, Tepco offered a “heartfelt apology for causing great trouble and worry” to those affected in Fukushima and other areas, and said it would consider how to respond to the court decision after closely examining it.
At the court, the operator said it had already paid damages to some of the plaintiffs and that the amount was adequate as it was based on government guidelines. The utility also said it was not obliged to compensate the others as they had voluntarily evacuated.
The government has denied responsibility for the disaster, saying it could not have foreseen the flooding of the nuclear plant due to a tsunami.
The plaintiffs argued that Tepco neglected to take preventive measures although it could have predicted earthquake and tsunami risks at the plant, and that the government did not enforce adequate safety measures despite approving power generation at the complex.
They also said that the psychological distress they suffered due to fears that radiation exposure had damaged their health, among other concerns, had impacted their ability to lead normal lives following the evacuations.