Japanese government held liable for first time for negligence in Fukushima
Court rules government should have used regulatory powers to force nuclear plant’s operator to take preventive measures
A court in Japan has ruled that negligence by the state contributed to the triple meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 and awarded significant damages to evacuees.
Although courts have awarded damages arising from the disaster in other cases, Friday’s ruling is the first time the government has been held liable.
The Maebashi district court near Tokyo awarded ¥38.55m (£270,000) to 137 people who were forced to evacuate their homes in the days after three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors suffered a catastrophic meltdown, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Despite official claims that the size and destructive power of the quake and tsunami were impossible to foresee, the court said the nuclear meltdown could have been prevented.
The ruling said the government should have used its regulatory powers to force the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), who were also held liable, to take adequate preventive measures.
The plaintiffs – comprising forced and “voluntary” evacuees – claimed the government and Tepco could have predicted a tsunami more than 10 metres in height would one day hit the plant.
They based their claim on a 2002 report in which government experts estimated there was a one in five chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake occurring and triggering a powerful tsunami within the next 30 years.
At the time of the disaster, Japan’s nuclear regulator was severely criticised for its collusive ties with the nuclear industry, resulting in the formation of a new watchdog that has imposed stricter criteria for the restart of nuclear reactors that were shut down in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
Tepco, which faces a ¥21.5tn bill for decommissioning the plant and compensating evacuees, said it would respond after studying the ruling.
The 137 plaintiffs, who are now living in several regions outside of Fukushima, were seeking a total of ¥1.5bn as compensation for emotional distress.
They said the meltdown and resulting evacuation had ruined their livelihoods and caused disruption to their families’ lives, adding that state compensation they had already received was insufficient.
Friday’s ruling is the first of 30 lawsuits to be brought by Fukushima evacuees. Six years after the disaster, tens of thousands of people are still living in nuclear limbo, and many say they will never be able to return home. A small number have moved back to communities where the government has lifted evacuation orders.
The ruling echoed the conclusion reached by an independent parliamentary investigation, which described the Fukushima Daiichi meltdown as a “man-made” disaster caused by poor regulation and collusion between the government, Tepco and the industry’s then watchdog, the nuclear and industrial safety agency.
The report, published in 2012, accused Tepco and the agency of failing to take adequate safety measures, despite evidence that the north-east coast of Japan was susceptible to powerful earthquakes and tsunamis.
“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties,” the report said.
“They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made’.”
Japan Court Rules Government to Blame for Fukushima
A court in Japan Friday ruled that Tokyo Electric Power (TEPCO) and the government are liable for negligence in a case involving compensation for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the first time the judiciary has ruled the state has liability, Japanese media reported.
The district court in Maebashi, north of Tokyo, ruled in favor of 137 evacuees seeking damages for the emotional distress of fleeing their homes as radiation spread from the meltdowns at TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi plant after an earthquake and tsunami six years ago, The Mainichi newspaper and other media reported.
While courts have ruled in favor of plaintiffs and awarded damages arising from the disaster, it was the first time a court has recognized that the government was liable, the Mainichi said.
TEPCO has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and both the company and government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.
TEPCO said in a statement it would review the contents of the ruling before making a response.
In December, the government nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the disaster to 21.5 trillion yen ($187.7 billion), increasing pressure on TEPCO to step up reform and improve its performance.
In the world’s worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors at TEPCO’s Fukushima plant suffered meltdowns after a magnitude 9 earthquake in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan’s northeastern coastline and killed more than 15,000 people.