SENDAI – A high court on Thursday ordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to pay ¥730 million in damages to evacuees from the 2011 tsunami-triggered meltdown, up ¥120 million from a lower court ruling.
In their appeal at the Sendai High Court, 216 plaintiffs, most of whom are evacuees from areas within 30 kilometers of the plant, maintained their claim for a total of ¥1.88 billion in compensation from Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.
The latest ruling is the first to be handed down by a high court among 30 similar lawsuits filed nationwide by evacuees and victims seeking damages, either from the power company alone or both the utility and the state.
“Tepco knew around April 2008 that there was the possibility of a tsunami that could be high enough to reach the site of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and might cause the failure of the safety functions intended to halt the nuclear reactor,” presiding Judge Hisaki Kobayashi said when handing down the ruling.
“The accident occurred while countermeasure construction had been postponed. From the victims’ point of view, this is the thing that Tepco should have the greatest amount of regret over,” he said. “Tepco’s lack of proper preparation is extremely regrettable and should be an important factor in calculating the amount of compensation.”
Also taking into account pain caused to the plaintiffs by the loss of their neighborhoods and hardships during evacuation, the court ordered additional compensation of ¥1 million each for evacuees mostly from areas once designated as restricted residence zones and ¥500,000 for those from former emergency evacuation preparation zones.
In the previous ruling at the Iwaki branch of the Fukushima District Court in March 2018, 213 out of 216 plaintiffs were awarded compensation of between ¥700,000 and ¥1.5 million per person, depending on where the victims were living.
Both the utility and the plaintiffs had appealed to the high court.
“It is a fair ruling,” said Tokuo Hayakawa, who leads the plaintiffs. “We cannot go back to our daily lives even if the evacuation orders are lifted.”
Tepco said in a release that it was considering how to respond to the latest ruling.
The value sought in the lawsuit had been lowered by the plaintiffs from ¥13.3 billion to avoid the possibility of a prolonged trial that could have raised court costs and may have undermined the amount of money they could receive at its conclusion.
The plaintiffs argued that the operator could have foreseen the accident caused by the tsunami based on the government’s 2002 long-term assessment of major quakes, and demanded compensation for their “loss of a hometown” in addition to the amount already paid by the power company.
Tepco maintains that it could not have predicted the tsunami, and has claimed that the damages have already been paid to evacuees in accordance with government guidelines on compensation.