June 16, 2022
On June 17, the Supreme Court’s Second Petty Bench (Chief Justice Hiroyuki Kanno) hands down its first unified judgment on the state’s responsibility in four class action lawsuits brought by evacuees of the TEPCO’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident, who sought compensation from the state and TEPCO. The High Court has reached a split decision on the issue. The high court has reached a split decision, and it is inevitable that the outcome of subsequent lawsuits of the same type will be determined. The impact on the criminal trials of TEPCO’s former management is also attracting attention. The series of lawsuits seeking to hold the government legally responsible for the unprecedented accident has reached a major milestone.
The progress of the first and second trials in the four lawsuits is shown in the table below. In addition to the amount of compensation, the lawsuits also focus on (1) the reliability of the “long-term assessment” of earthquake forecasts released in 2002 by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, and (2) the reliability of the nuclear power plant’s earthquake forecast. In addition to the amount of compensation, the main points of contention were (1) the reliability of the “long-term assessment” of earthquake forecasts released by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion in 2002, (2) whether the arrival of a tsunami at the plant could have been predicted (foreseeability), and (3) whether the accident could have been prevented if the government had made TEPCO take measures (obligation to avoid consequences). The appeals court decisions in the Fukushima, Chiba, and Ehime cases found the long-term assessments to be reliable and found the government liable for the accident. On the other hand, the Tokyo High Court denied the government’s responsibility in the Gunma lawsuit.
The issue that will divide the Supreme Court on March 17 is how to determine whether the government’s regulatory authority over TEPCO was “properly exercised or illegally exercised” with regard to the tsunami countermeasures at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
In the Chikuho pneumoconiosis lawsuit, the Sennan asbestos lawsuit, and other lawsuits in which the existence of state liability for non-use of regulatory authority was disputed, the Supreme Court has taken the position that the state is liable for compensation if its failure to use its authority “deviates from permissible limits and is extremely unreasonable.
The court is expected to follow this approach with regard to the nuclear power plant accident, and will examine the foreseeability of the tsunami and other issues to reach a verdict.
In their arguments at the appeal hearings held in April and May, the plaintiffs argued that the long-term assessment was “highly reliable” and that the tsunami could have been foreseen based on the predictions. They argued that the accident could have been prevented if the government had forced TEPCO to build seawalls and make the buildings watertight to prevent flooding.
On the other hand, the government argued that the long-term assessment was unreliable and “not precise and accurate enough to be incorporated into nuclear regulations. Even if TEPCO had been ordered to take countermeasures, the actual tsunami would have been different in scale and direction, and the accident could not have been prevented.
In March, prior to the ruling, the Second Petty Bench of the Tokyo District Court had already rejected appeals by both the plaintiffs and the defendant regarding the amount of damages. With this decision, TEPCO’s liability and the amount of compensation are now fixed.