Rulings show Fukushima relief falls short of reality of victims
A recent district court ruling on a damages lawsuit over the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident must have reminded many people of the serious consequences of the disaster.
The meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant shattered the happy and peaceful lives of local residents.
A huge number of people born and raised in the surrounding communities can no longer hope to continue their lives there, including working and developing their personalities through interactions with others.
In the lawsuit filed by around 3,800 plaintiffs, the Fukushima District Court on Oct. 10 held the government and the electric utility responsible for the nuclear accident and ordered them to pay compensation to about 2,900 evacuees.
It was another court ruling that represents a “legal defeat” for the government over the disaster, following a decision made in March by the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture.
For many years, the government has been promoting nuclear power generation as a national policy. Policymakers involved should revisit the lessons from the severe accident, which should be blamed on their blind faith in the “safety myth” of nuclear power.
They should also start making fresh efforts to enhance the safety of nuclear plants and provide effective relief to victims.
One key issue in the around 30 similar lawsuits that have been filed across the nation is whether it was possible to foresee the massive tsunami that triggered the meltdowns.
So far, three district courts have handed down rulings, all of which acknowledged that the tsunami was foreseeable. Their decisions were partly based on a related view announced in 2002 by a government agency.
Last month, however, the Chiba District Court denied the government’s legal responsibility for the accident, saying the disaster might not have been prevented even if presumed safety measures had been taken.
The ruling was based on a lenient judgment that showed insufficient sensitivity to the consequences of the accident.
In contrast, the Fukushima court delivered a well-reasoned, convincing ruling that describes in detail possible measures that could have been taken. It was based on a wide range of evidence, including courtroom testimonies by experts and facts and data concerning the situation when the accident unfolded.
Nuclear safety regulators and nuclear plant operators have the grave responsibility to constantly update their scientific knowledge and adopt safety measures of the highest possible level.
This is a vital imperative whose importance has become even clearer since the Fukushima accident.
Another key issue in the Fukushima disaster-related lawsuits is the way relief should be provided to victims.
All three rulings ordered compensation payments beyond government-set standards to a considerable number of plaintiffs.
The Chiba District Court ruling amply recognized the mental damages from the loss of hometowns caused by the accident. The Fukushima court granted compensation to a wide range of people, including residents in areas in Fukushima Prefecture that were not ordered to evacuate by the government, as well as in neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture, for their suffering from anxiety about radiation exposure.
The court rulings differed in their views about certain issues and damages granted.
But they all acknowledged that the government’s guidelines for compensation and TEPCO’s payments based on the guidelines do not adequately reflect the reality of the victims’ suffering.
The government’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation, which crafted the guidelines, should scrutinize the rulings to determine if the guidelines have any shortcomings or other problems.
The nuclear accident cannot be undone. Obviously, the government and TEPCO are obliged to provide quick and appropriate relief to victims from the viewpoint of people suffering the consequences of the disaster.