Voluntary evacuees granted only small awards in Fukushima nuke disaster damage case
While the March 17 Maebashi District Court ruling acknowledged that both the central government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) are liable for the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, it dealt a harsh blow to those who voluntarily evacuated their Fukushima Prefecture homes in the wake of the meltdowns.
The court awarded a total of 38.55 million yen in damages to 62 of the 137 plaintiffs who fled from Fukushima Prefecture to Gunma Prefecture and elsewhere — about one-fortieth of the complainants’ total compensation demand of approximately 1.5 billion yen. This was because the court acknowledged to some extent the rationale behind the government-set “interim guidelines” for TEPCO’s compensation payment standards. The court rejected claims made by over half of the plaintiffs, saying that the amount of compensation they are entitled to does not exceed that which has already been paid by TEPCO.
The interim guidelines were set by the education ministry’s Dispute Reconciliation Committee for Nuclear Damage Compensation in August 2011 to ensure swift compensation to cover damages common to many residents in the nuclear disaster-hit areas. Based on the guidelines, TEPCO set up standards for compensation payments, such as a monthly payment of 100,000 yen per person for those from evacuation zones and, as a rule, one-off payments of 80,000 yen for each voluntary evacuee. Voluntary evacuees in nuclear disaster class-action suits across the country are arguing that 80,000 yen is too small an amount, considering that leaving Fukushima Prefecture was a reasonable decision.
Some experts have criticized the district court decision, saying that it only confirmed the legitimacy of the interim guidelines. At the same time, the ruling was based on the court’s own calculation for deciding the compensation amount for each plaintiff, which set five “emotional distress” categories to be considered including the feeling of losing one’s hometown.
Nevertheless, the compensation amounts in the ruling differed greatly between the plaintiffs from evacuation zones and voluntary evacuees. Nineteen plaintiffs who used to live in areas under evacuation orders were awarded compensation payments of between 750,000 yen and 3.5 million yen each, while 43 voluntary evacuees were granted awards of between 70,000 yen and 730,000 yen.
One of the plaintiffs who had voluntarily left the city of Iwaki was awarded about 200,000 yen in damages for the 10-day period right after the March 2011 meltdowns. However, the ruling denied that the same woman’s decision to flee Fukushima Prefecture again two months after the meltdowns was rational, saying that high radiation doses were not detected in Iwaki and no other particularly concerning circumstances were present.
Attorney Tsutomu Yonekura of the national liaison association of lawyers representing Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees said of the Maebashi District Court ruling, “The amount of compensation provided for in the ruling remains at the same level as that set in the interim guidelines, even though the court claimed to have independently calculated the compensation payments. It’s not enough as judicial redress.”
Fukushima nuke disaster evacuees disappointed by court’s compensation award
Fukushima Prefecture evacuees in a class action suit over the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster were disappointed by the 38.55 million yen in total compensation awarded on March 17 by the Maebashi District Court, as the amount was just one-fortieth what they had been seeking.
“I was expecting to hear a ruling that would support us more,” one of the plaintiffs said after the verdict, which came 3 1/2 years after they filed the suit and six years after the disaster’s onset.
“We have made the court recognize the responsibility of the central government and plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO). I am honestly happy about that,” plaintiff Sugie Tanji, 60, said to a gathering following the ruling. However, she continued, “The past six years was filled with many hardships. I wonder if I can convince myself to accept the ruling…”
Tanji was a resident of Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture. Her 63-year-old husband Mikio ran a repair business, but orders plunged following the No. 1 plant meltdowns. Four months later, the couple voluntarily evacuated to Gunma Prefecture.
Although Tanji felt guilty for leaving fellow residents behind, she took part in anti-nuclear power rallies and demonstrations in Gunma Prefecture and joined the class action suit, believing that there must never be another nuclear disaster.
Of the 137 plaintiffs from 45 households, representatives of almost all the households appeared in court, testifying to the agony of living as evacuees and expressing their anger toward TEPCO and the central government. However, only a few of them have made their names public out of concern for possible discrimination against their children and negative effects on their jobs. Tanji herself recalls being told, “You can get money if you go to court, can’t you?”
Under government guidelines, those who evacuated voluntarily are entitled to only 80,000 yen in consolation money from TEPCO, including living expenses. The plaintiffs thought the amount was far too small considering the pain of losing their hometowns. However, only 62 of the 137 plaintiffs were awarded compensation.
“I was expecting a warmer ruling,” said a woman in her 50s who sat in on the March 17 hearing clad in mourning attire. She was working part-time for a company in Iwaki, but was fired after the nuclear disaster impacted the firm’s business performance.
This and radiation exposure fears prompted her and her husband to evacuate to Gunma Prefecture two months later. Her husband, however, developed a malignant brain tumor the following year, after the couple settled into an apartment that the Gunma Prefectural Government had rented for evacuees. Her husband died in the fall of 2014 at age 52.
The woman says she still doesn’t feel like she can start working and subsists on her savings and survivor’s pension. At the end of March, the Fukushima Prefectural Government is set to terminate its housing subsidies for voluntary evacuees. For her, the compensation awarded by the Maebashi District Court was “unimaginably low.”
“I can’t report the ruling to my husband,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.