Lawyers for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking damages from the government and TEPCO for residents who evacuated to Chiba Prefecture following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster hold up banners reading “Government not liable,” left, and “TEPCO must pay portion of compensation,” right, in front of the Chiba District Court on Sept. 22, 2017.
When on Sept. 22 the Chiba District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to pay some 376 million yen in damages to a group of Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees, it gave concrete recognition to the evacuees’ loss — of hometowns, jobs and personal relationships — for the first time.
Six and a half years after the disaster, even in areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, the reconstruction of the communities that once thrived there is still a distant prospect. However, though it absolved the government of legal liability, this court ruling — the second in a slew of class action suits filed against TEPCO and the government — can be said to be a breakthrough far exceeding previous compensation levels.
“The Maebashi District Court (in March) recognized the responsibility of both the government and TEPCO, but this ended up feeling like a victory in name only, with no ‘reward.’ But it can be said that the Chiba (District Court) decision finally reaped ‘rewards,”’ commented lawyer Katsuyoshi Suzuki, lead counsel of the plaintiffs’ legal team in the Maebashi court case, who was at a gathering in Chiba awaiting the Sept. 22 ruling.
The Maebashi District Court awarded a total of some 460 million yen in damages. However, based on “interim guidelines” set for TEPCO by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation in August 2011 to ensure swift payouts, it was decided that TEPCO had already paid about 420 million yen. As such, a total of only 38.55 million yen was awarded to 62 of the 137 plaintiffs. Complaints followed that voices of the evacuees decrying their psychological pain had not been heard.
However, in the Chiba case, TEPCO was ordered to pay 42 out of the 45 plaintiffs a total of roughly 376 million yen, even after some 650 million yen was judged as already having been paid by the company under the “interim guidelines.” It was pointed out that the guidelines only set a minimum baseline for compensation, and upon considering the individual cases, the court granted the large damages award.
What stood out was that the court explicitly recognized the payout as compensation for the loss of hometowns, jobs and personal relationships suffered by the nuclear disaster evacuees. The majority of the plaintiffs in the Chiba case were residents of designated evacuation zones, and claimed they lost their livelihoods, relationships and local customs to the nuclear disaster, and were stripped of their right to live a peaceful life. They had sought 20 million yen in compensation each, saying that the interim guidelines did not accurately reflect the pain of losing their hometowns.
Concerning communities where the evacuation orders had been lifted by this spring, including the village of Iitate, Fukushima Prefecture, TEPCO cited falling radiation levels and infrastructure restoration as evidence that the plaintiffs’ claim that they lost their hometowns permanently was false. As such, TEPCO argued that their current compensation standards were sufficient.
However, even in areas where evacuation orders have been lifted, only roughly 10 percent of former residents have returned. The court decision stated, “(The plaintiffs) have lost their close connections to their local communities over a substantial period of time. Simply lifting evacuation orders will not immediately relieve this suffering,” awarding 36 of the plaintiffs an average of some 3 million yen each. Nevertheless, some of the plaintiffs are not satisfied by the results.
“Our lives were disrupted,” said Michiko Saito, 56, who evacuated from the Odaka district of Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, to Yachimata, Chiba Prefecture. “Even if the money is returned to us, we will never get our hometowns back.”
Plaintiffs and their lawyers enter the Chiba District Court on Sept. 22 to hear the verdict in the Fukushima nuclear accident compensation case.
TEPCO ordered to pay evacuees of Fukushima nuclear disaster
CHIBA–A district court here on Sept. 22 ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay 376 million yen ($3.3 million) in compensation to evacuees of the Fukushima nuclear disaster but absolved the central government of responsibility.
Forty-five people in 18 households who evacuated to Chiba Prefecture following the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant sought a total of about 2.8 billion yen from TEPCO and the government.
About 30 similar lawsuits involving 12,000 plaintiffs have been filed at district courts around Japan.
The Chiba District Court ruling was the second so far.
In March, the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture found both TEPCO and the government responsible for the nuclear disaster and ordered compensation totaling 38.55 million yen for 62 plaintiffs.
The main point of the lawsuit in the Chiba District Court was whether TEPCO and the government could have foreseen a towering tsunami hitting the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and taken measures to prevent the disaster.
The plaintiffs emphasized a long-term appraisal released by the central government in 2002, which estimated a 20-percent possibility of a magnitude-8 level earthquake occurring between the coast off the Sanriku region in the Tohoku region to the coast off the Boso Peninsula of Chiba Prefecture within the next 30 years.
The plaintiffs argued that this appraisal shows it was possible to forecast a tsunami off the coast from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and that measures could have been taken even as late as 2006 to prevent the disaster.
For the first time in a court case involving compensation related to the Fukushima disaster, a seismologist provided testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Kunihiko Shimazaki, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, once served as a deputy chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. He was also in charge of compiling the 2002 long-term appraisal for the government.
“The height of a likely tsunami could have been known if it was calculated based on that appraisal,” Shimazaki said in court. “Even if a specific forecast could not be made, some sort of countermeasure could have been taken.”
The defendants argued that the long-term appraisal did not provide a specific basis for predicting a tsunami and only pointed to the fact that a magnitude-8 level earthquake occurring could not be ruled out.
Tepco again ordered to pay damages in nuclear disaster, but not state
CHIBA, Japan (Kyodo) — A Japanese court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. on Friday to pay damages over the nuclear disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a deadly 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but dismissed claims against the state.
The Chiba District Court ruling follows a Maebashi District Court decision in March that found negligence on the part of both Tepco and the government played a part in the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl and ordered them to pay damages.
Friday’s ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by 45 people who were forced to flee Fukushima Prefecture to Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo as reactors that lost cooling functions caused meltdowns and spewed massive amounts of radioactive materials into the air.
The Chiba court awarded a total of 376 million yen ($3.35 million) to 42 of them, including all four who voluntarily evacuated. In the suit filed in March 2013, the plaintiffs were collectively seeking around 2.8 billion yen in damages from the government and plant operator.
The focal point of the Chiba case was whether the government and Tepco were able to foresee the huge tsunami that hit the seaside plant on March 11, 2011, and take preventive measures beforehand, with conflicting claims made by the parties regarding the government’s long-term earthquake assessment, which was made public in 2002.
The assessment, made by the government’s earthquake research promotion unit, predicted a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8-level tsunami-triggering earthquake occurring along the Japan Trench in the Pacific Ocean within 30 years, including the area off Fukushima.
Based on the assessment, the plaintiffs argued that, with the plant standing on ground roughly 10 meters above sea level, a tsunami higher than the ground striking the plant could have been predicted.
They then claimed that the disaster was therefore preventable if emergency power generation equipment had been placed on higher ground, and that the government should have made Tepco take such measures by exercising its regulatory powers.
The government and Tepco, for their part, claimed the assessment was not established knowledge, and that even if they had foreseen a tsunami higher than the site of the plant and taken measures against it, they cannot be held liable as the actual tsunami was much higher at around 15.5 meters.
The government also argued that it obtained regulatory powers to force Tepco to take anti-flooding measures only after a legislative change following the disaster.
In Friday’s ruling, the court found the government not liable, saying that while the government indeed has such powers, not exercising them was not too unreasonable.
While ordering Tepco to pay damages, the court determined that the plant operator did not commit serious negligence that would have required a higher compensation amount, saying it did not totally leave anti-tsunami measures unaddressed.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers criticized the ruling as unfair, in that the court did not recognize the state’s liability. But they still positively rated the court’s acknowledgement of the loss of the plaintiffs’ hometown, jobs and personal relationships, and compensation for such a loss.
In March, the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture recognized negligence on the part not just of Tepco but also the government, saying they were able to foresee a tsunami high enough to inundate the plant.
It was the first such ruling issued among around 30 suits of the same kind and the first to rule in favor of plaintiffs.
The Maebashi court acknowledged that the government had regulatory authority over Tepco even before the accident, noting that “failing to exercise it is strikingly irrational and illegal.”
The court awarded to 62 of 137 plaintiffs a total of 38.55 million yen in damages, far less than the 1.5 billion yen sought in total. Many of the plaintiffs have appealed the district court decision.
In the Chiba suit, the 45 plaintiffs, including four who evacuated voluntarily, sought 20 million yen each for compensation for their evacuation and the loss of their hometown, jobs and personal relationships because their lives were uprooted.
The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, causing multiple meltdowns and hydrogen blasts at the nuclear power plant. Around 55,000 people remained evacuated both within and outside Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of August in the wake of the disaster.
TEPCO ordered to pay damages over nuclear accident
A Japanese court has ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company to pay damages to people who were forced to leave their homes after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
The Chiba District Court on Friday ordered TEPCO to pay nearly a total of 3.4 million dollars to 42 of the 45 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against TEPCO and the government.
The complainants say they lost their homes and jobs because of the March 2011 accident. They were seeking 25 million dollars in compensation.
The focus was whether the defendants were able to predict the tsunami that hit the plant and should therefore have taken preventive measures.
Also at issue was whether the amount of compensation TEPCO is currently paying to evacuees is appropriate.
Presiding judge Masaru Sakamoto said TEPCO did not entirely fail to implement measures against the risk of tsunami, and did not commit a grave error.
But Sakamoto said the psychological suffering of the plaintiffs is linked to the accident, and that TEPCO should pay redress.
He did not hold the government liable for the accident. The judge said that although by 2006 officials were able to predict the possibility that a tsunami could hit the plant compound, the introduction of safety measures would not necessarily have prevented the accident.
This is the second ruling in a series of lawsuits filed by about 12,000 people over the nuclear accident.
In March, the Maebashi District Court ruled that both the government and TEPCO were liable for the accident and ordered the government and the plant operator to pay damages.
A judge presiding at a trial over the Fukushima nuclear crisis said the judges in charge will decide by the end of this year on whether to order the government to submit some of its investigation committee’s reports on the disaster that have been withheld.
Presiding Judge Akihiko Otake at the Tokyo District Court made the remark on Oct. 13 during an oral proceeding of the suit filed by shareholders of Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), the operator of the crippled nuclear plant, to clarify the responsibility of former TEPCO board members over the disaster.
Otake also said the judges in charge will conduct an in camera review on other documents, part of which has been blacked out before they were disclosed, to deem whether the measure is appropriate.
Specifically, the judges will examine documents recording statements by the now deceased Masao Yoshida, who headed the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant at the time of the outbreak of the disaster in March 2011, and those by two officials of the then Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency.
The documents were disclosed after the names of individuals and some other information were blacked out. The court said it has already ordered the Cabinet Office to submit the documents with the blacked-out parts unveiled. The Cabinet Office has reportedly responded that it intends to comply with the order by the end of this week.
TOKYO – A Japanese court on Wednesday turned down a class-action lawsuit seeking damages from nuclear plant makers Toshiba, Hitachi and GE over the Fukushima meltdown disaster, the plaintiffs, one of the companies and a report said.
About 3,800 claimants in the suit, hailing from Japan and 32 other countries including the United States, Germany and South Korea, had sought largely symbolic compensation from the nuclear power plant manufacturers.
Under Japanese liability law, nuclear plant providers are usually exempt from damage claims in the event of an accident, leaving operators to face legal action.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers, however, had argued that that violated constitutional protections on the pursuit of happy, wholesome and cultured livelihoods.
But the Tokyo District Court ruled that the law “is not unconstitutional”, according to lawyers for the plaintiffs.
“We knew it was difficult to win under the current legal system in Japan, but it’s clearly wrong that nuclear (plant) manufacturers don’t have to bear any responsibility for an accident,” Masao Imaizumi, 73, one of the plaintiffs, told AFP.
“If they are spared responsibility, it could lead to disregard for product quality,” he said, adding that the plaintiffs will appeal.
Toshiba welcomed the decision.
“The company recognises the verdict as an appropriate ruling handed out by the court,” it said in a statement.
Hitachi and GE’s Japan office could not be reached for comment.
Japan’s Jiji Press also reported that the suit was rejected.
The suit — which sought just 100 yen (96 US cents) per claimant — was the first to be brought against nuclear power-plant suppliers over the accident, Akihiro Shima, lead lawyer for the plaintiffs, said previously.
The suit was first filed in January 2014 with just over 1,000 claimants, but more joined and the number nearly quadrupled.
The plaintiffs had alleged that the companies failed to make necessary safety updates to the Fukushima reactors, swamped on 11 March 2011 by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake-sparked tsunami that lead to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
Embattled plant operator Tokyo Electric Power is already facing massive lawsuits and compensation costs.