The Supreme Court upheld an order for utility Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay damages of ¥1.4 billion ($12 million) to about 3,700 people whose lives were devastated by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the first decision of its kind.

NHK said the average payout was about ¥380,000 ($3,290) for each plaintiff in three class-action lawsuits, among more than 30 against the utility. The three suits are the first to be finalized.

A massive tsunami unleashed by an earthquake of magnitude 9.0 off Japan's northeastern coast struck Tepco's Fukushima No. 1 power plant in March 2011, leading to the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

About 470,000 people were forced to evacuate in the days after the disaster and tens of thousands have still not been able to return.

Friday's decision came as the court rejected an appeal by Tepco and ruled it negligent for not taking preventive measures against a tsunami of that size, the broadcaster said.

The court withheld a verdict on the role of the government, which is also a defendant in the lawsuits, and will hold a hearing next month to rule on its culpability, NHK added.

Lower courts have been split over the extent of the government's responsibility to foresee the disaster and order steps by Tepco to prevent it.