June 17, 2022

The Supreme Court will hand down its decision on April 17 in four class action lawsuits filed by people who evacuated to various areas after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, demanding compensation from the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO). The Supreme Court is expected to issue its first unified judgment on the government’s responsibility for the nuclear accident, which may have an impact on similar lawsuits filed across Japan and the way relief should be provided to the victims.

The Supreme Court’s decision will be handed down in four class action lawsuits filed against the government and TEPCO by people who evacuated to various areas after the nuclear power plant accident, including Fukushima, Gunma, Chiba, and Ehime.

The focus of the lawsuits is the reliability of the “long-term assessment” published by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002, nine years before the earthquake, and whether the government could have predicted the huge tsunami and prevented the accident if TEPCO had taken countermeasures.

The residents of the area said, “The long-term assessment is reliable, and the government should have ordered tsunami countermeasures, but it failed to do so. The residents argued that the accident could have been prevented if they had been given countermeasures for flooding and other problems.

In response, the government argued that the “long-term assessment” was unreliable and that the actual tsunami was different in scale from the estimates based on the assessment.

The two courts were divided in their decisions, with the Fukushima, Chiba, and Ehime courts recognizing the reliability of the “long-term assessment” and holding the government responsible, while the Gunma court denied the reliability of the “long-term assessment” and held the government not responsible.

This is the first time that the Supreme Court has reached a unified decision on the government’s responsibility for a nuclear accident. If the court determines that the government is responsible for the accident, the government, along with TEPCO, will be liable for the total 1.4 billion yen in compensation that has already been determined.

Furthermore, the ruling is expected to have an impact on similar lawsuits that have been filed throughout Japan, and depending on the decision, it may have a ripple effect on the relief for victims and the way nuclear power plants are regulated.

The verdict will be handed down at 2:30 p.m.


The judgments so far are.

The issues are whether a giant tsunami could have been predicted based on the “long-term assessment” of earthquakes published by a national agency, and even if it could have been predicted, whether it would have been possible to avoid the accident by having TEPCO take effective countermeasures.

Of the four cases for which verdicts are to be handed down, the Fukushima and Ehime lawsuits were found to be the responsibility of the government in both the first and second trials.

The Fukushima lawsuit, also known as the “Ikigyo lawsuit,” is the largest class action lawsuit in Japan, with over 3,500 plaintiffs.

The Sendai High Court, which made the first ruling in the second trial, noted in September 2008 that “the ‘long-term assessment’ has an objective and reasonable basis, and that if the government and TEPCO had promptly made estimates based on this assessment, they could have predicted a large-scale tsunami.

He continued, “It must be admitted that the government was trying to avoid estimating the long-term assessment itself because it was afraid of the large economic burden on TEPCO. It is illegal for the government not to have ordered measures to be taken.

In a lawsuit brought by more than 20 people who evacuated to Ehime Prefecture, both the first and second judges found the government liable, saying, “The government should have predicted the danger of tsunami based on the long-term assessment and taken countermeasures.

On the other hand, the first and second judgments in Chiba and Gunma differed.

In a lawsuit by more than 40 people who evacuated to Chiba Prefecture, the Chiba District Court in the first trial denied the government’s responsibility, saying, “Although the arrival of the tsunami could have been foreseen in 2006 at the latest, it is not recognized that the accident could have been prevented through measures related to the tsunami.

However, the Tokyo High Court in the second instance denied the government’s responsibility, stating, “If a tsunami assessment had been made based on the ‘long-term assessment,’ the government could have recognized that there was a risk of tsunami exceeding the height of the nuclear power plant site. If countermeasures had been taken, the impact of the tsunami would have been mitigated and the plant would not have lost all of its power supply.

In a lawsuit filed by more than 90 people who evacuated to Gunma Prefecture, the Maebashi District Court in the first trial accepted the government’s responsibility, but the Tokyo High Court in the second trial, a different judge from the Chiba lawsuit, refused to accept the government’s responsibility, saying that “it cannot be said that the tsunami could have been predicted based on long-term assessment and that the accident could not have been avoided even if tsunami countermeasures had been taken. The court refused to accept the government’s responsibility, stating that “the tsunami was not predicted by the long-term assessment.


What is a “long-term assessment?”

The “long-term assessment” that was the focus of this report was published in July 2002 by the Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, a group of experts on earthquakes and tsunamis established by the Japanese government in the wake of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, to estimate the areas where major earthquakes and tsunamis will occur in the future based on past earthquakes and other data, and the probability of their occurrence.

What was published at that time was a forecast of seismic activity from Sanriku-oki to Boso-oki. Based on the fact that three major earthquakes with magnitude 8-class tsunamis have occurred along the Japan Trench in the past 400 years, we estimated that a similar earthquake would occur within a wide area on the Pacific side, including off the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, with a probability of about 20% within 30 years.

Based on this “long-term assessment,” a subsidiary of TEPCO estimated in 2008, three years before the nuclear accident, that the maximum tsunami height that could reach the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant would be 15.7 meters. The result was much higher than the maximum height of 5.7 meters that TEPCO had assumed at the time, and some on-site personnel voiced the need for countermeasures.

On the other hand, some experts questioned the reliability of the “long-term assessment,” and so the study was entrusted to another organization, the Japan Society of Civil Engineers (JSCE), which had previously assessed tsunami heights, and no concrete measures were taken.

One of the main issues in the trial was whether the government and TEPCO were able to foresee a huge earthquake with a large tsunami before the nuclear accident based on scientific evidence, and whether the “long-term assessment” could be said to be the basis for the foresight.

The Supreme Court’s decision on the “long-term assessment” is expected to be the focus of attention.


Evacuee Class Action Lawsuits Filed in 33 Cases Nationwide

A total of 33 class action lawsuits have been filed across Japan by people who evacuated to various areas after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, demanding compensation from the government and TEPCO, with a total claim of 106 billion yen and more than 12,000 plaintiffs.

Four of these lawsuits have been appealed to the Supreme Court (Fukushima, Gunma, Chiba, and Ehime), which will hand down its decision on April 17. 14 lawsuits filed at 13 district courts and branches in Tokyo, Yokohama, Niigata, and other cities are being heard by the High Court.

In the two cases of Saitama and Fukushima, where the government’s responsibility was dismissed at the first trial in April this year and on the 2nd of this month, the residents and others have appealed the cases.

The remaining 13 cases are still pending in the district court or awaiting a decision.

The court decisions on the responsibility of the government are divided, with 12 of the 24 judgments handed down so far by the first and second instance courts acknowledging the responsibility of the government and 12 refusing to do so.

The breakdown is as follows: the district court in the first instance recognized the state’s responsibility in 9 cases, and the high court in the second instance did not recognize the responsibility in 11 cases.

Of the four lawsuits decided by the high court, Fukushima and Ehime were found to be responsible by both the first and second instance courts, while the first instance court that found the government liable in Gunma was reversed, and conversely, the second instance court found the government liable in Chiba.

Under these circumstances, the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision may have an impact on the lawsuits that are still being heard in various regions.


Four lawsuits confirm TEPCO’s liability and the amount of compensation in excess of 1.4 billion yen.

The Nuclear Damage Compensation Law stipulates that in the event of a nuclear accident, electric power companies are in principle liable for unlimited compensation regardless of fault, and in four lawsuits, TEPCO’s liability and the combined damages in excess of 1.4 billion yen have already been determined.

The national review board established in response to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant established “interim guidelines,” which set standards for the amount of compensation, and TEPCO has individually compensated those who are eligible for compensation based on these guidelines.

Although the amount and the range of damages awarded differed, the amount of compensation awarded exceeded the interim guidelines in each case, taking into consideration the fact that the victims had to change their lives before the accident and the “loss of their hometowns” among other factors.

The amounts awarded were approximately 1 billion yen to 3,500 people in the Fukushima lawsuit, 120 million yen to 90 people in the Maebashi lawsuit, 270 million yen to 40 people in the Chiba lawsuit, and 46 million yen to 20 people in the Ehime lawsuit.

If the Supreme Court rules that the government is also liable for compensation, TEPCO and the government will both have to bear the burden of compensation amounting to about 1.44 billion yen in total for the four cases.


More than 30,000 people still living in evacuation shelters

According to Fukushima Prefecture and the Reconstruction Agency, up to 164,865 residents of Fukushima Prefecture alone were evacuated due to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the nuclear power plant accident, and as of last month, more than 11 years after the accident, 30,231 people, or 18%, were still living as evacuees.

Of these, 6,549 are in Fukushima Prefecture, 23,677 are outside the prefecture, and 5 are unaccounted for.

Evacuees from Fukushima are located in all 47 prefectures of Japan, with Ibaraki Prefecture having the largest number of evacuees with 2,626, followed by Miyagi Prefecture with 2,573, Tokyo with 2,431, Saitama Prefecture with 2,386, Niigata Prefecture with 1,1958, Kanagawa Prefecture with 1,790, Chiba Prefecture with 1,423, Yamagata Prefecture with 1,262, Tochigi Prefecture with 1,151, and Hokkaido with 617. Hokkaido has 617, and so on.

So-called “voluntary evacuees” who evacuated from areas where evacuation orders were not issued are not included in the number of evacuees within the prefecture, but are included in the number of evacuees outside the prefecture.

In addition, people who have rebuilt their houses or moved into public disaster housing are not included in the evacuees because the evacuation is considered to end when the provision of free housing such as temporary housing ends. However, people who are living in the homes of relatives or acquaintances are included as evacuees as temporary temporary housing.


Plaintiffs who continue to live in evacuation shelters are

Keiko Fukaya, 77, who represented more than 3,500 plaintiffs in the Fukushima case, was living in Tomioka Town, Fukushima Prefecture, approximately 7 km from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant at the time of the accident.

She has been living in Koriyama City for the past three years, after having evacuated to other prefectures in and out of Fukushima Prefecture 10 times.

He worked as a hairdresser for many years, and when he was 59 years old, he built a beauty salon on the premises of his home to provide a place for the community to relax.

Ms. Fukaya said, “I loved this house where I could live slowly. The house where I raised my children and lived with my husband for several decades is my life itself, so when I see it in ruins, I feel sad and wonder what my life and all the hard work I have done so far has been for nothing, and every time I see it, I burst into tears.

The judge visited this place in May 2019 for a site survey during the course of the second hearing at the Sendai High Court, and at that time, Ms. Fukaya directly conveyed her feelings to the court, wanting them to know the situation the evacuees are in.

Before the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ms. Fukaya visited a beauty salon in the hard-to-return zone last week for the first time in three years since the time of the field survey, but the roof had collapsed and the interior was inaccessible.

Ms. Fukaya said, “I couldn’t go in there because they said the radiation was particularly high, and it was covered with scrub and looked like a mountain. My work and interaction with my neighbors were my purpose in life, and I put my heart and soul into building my beauty parlor, but because of the nuclear accident, everything I have built over the past 40 years while living and struggling in this town has been destroyed by the slides. For me, it is as if everything was taken away from me,” she said with tears in her eyes.

He then added, “It is not a matter of money. I really don’t want money, I want things to go back to the way they were. If they could return it to the way it was before the nuclear accident and put me back where I was, I would like to come back here, but that is impossible. If there had been no nuclear power plant, if the accident had not happened, I could have lived here, but because of the nuclear accident, I can’t live here anymore,” he said.

He continued, “The past 11 years have been a waste of time for me, as I have been repeatedly evacuated, living like a rootless weed, lost on the street. I wanted to do more, but nothing has been done and nothing has been decided. No one will give me back the past 11 years of my life, but what can we do if the government does not accept its responsibility? That is why we absolutely must win this trial, and for the sake of the many people who are still evacuated, we must win.


Possible Influence on the Way Victims’ Relief is Provided

The Supreme Court’s decision on the government’s liability for the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant may have an impact on the way relief for victims is provided.

Of the approximately 30 class action lawsuits filed by people who evacuated to various locations as a result of the nuclear accident, the Supreme Court has so far ruled in seven cases that TEPCO is liable for compensation and that the amount of compensation exceeds the guidelines set by a national panel by 2013.

The reason for this is that new damage, prolonged evacuation, and delays in the restoration of living conditions in the surrounding areas were unforeseen at the time the guidelines were established.

However, up to now, the government has been “supporting” TEPCO by issuing government bonds and providing necessary funds to compensate for damages caused by the nuclear power plant accident, based on the assumption that the government has a social responsibility for promoting nuclear energy policy.

If the Supreme Court ruling holds the government responsible for the accident, the government will be recognized as a party to the same problem as TEPCO, which may lead to a review of the way relief for victims should be provided.


Experts: “The nature of compensation and support will determine the future course of events.”

Professor Rifumi Yedimoto of Osaka Public University, an expert on compensation for nuclear accidents, commented on the significance of the ruling: “This is the first judgment on the responsibility of the government in the more than 11 years since the nuclear accident. It is a decision of great significance in that it will determine the future direction of compensation, reconstruction policies, and support for disaster victims.

If the government is found to be responsible for the disaster, the government will face the victims in the same position as TEPCO, and the foundation of its policies will be fundamentally changed,” he said. This would have the impact of fundamentally changing the foundation of the government’s policy. I think the government will be required to review its policies, such as by launching a drastic effort to support the reconstruction of the lives of individual victims.

Professor Dedimoto commented, “The Supreme Court’s decision in March of this year confirmed that the compensation based on the government’s guidelines to date is insufficient. Regardless of what conclusion is reached regarding the responsibility of the government in this decision, I think it is essential to review the guidelines. There are many things that have become clear through research and trials over the past 11 years, and the government should properly consider what the ideal form of compensation should be.

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