The court ruling last week that held Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings and the government responsible for failing to take steps to prevent the March 11, 2011, tsunami-caused meltdowns at Tepco's Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant should send a warning as authorities and the power industry move to restart nuclear reactors idled in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. The Maebashi District Court decision is only the first ruling on at least 30 damage suits filed across the country by evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture. But the Abe administration and the power companies need to seriously take the message in the ruling — that they need to maximally consider the risk of a severe nuclear power plant accident given the enormous damage that could result from such a disaster.

The Maebashi court rejected the claims by Tepco and the national government that the giant tsunami triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake — which flooded the Fukushima No. 1 plant's emergency power system, leading to the loss of its reactor core cooling function and causing meltdowns in three of its six reactors — was unforeseeable and that they cannot be held liable for inaction to prevent the disaster.

Pointing to a 2002 estimate by the government's Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake rocking areas off Fukushima within 30 years — and Tepco's own 2008 trial calculation based on the estimate that the No. 1 plant could be hit by a tsunami up to 15.7 meters high (almost the same height as the 15.5 meter-tsunami that hit on that day), the court determined that the power company was able to anticipate — and actually predicted — the tsunami risk but failed to take necessary action. It also accused the government of negligence to use its regulatory powers to get Tepco to take steps against possible tsunami damage. The argument by both Tepco and the government that the 2002 estimate was not scientifically established was refuted as the court called it a rational forecast that needed to be taken into account in assessing the tsunami-damage risk of a nuclear power plant.