Japan's TEPCO ordered for 2nd time to pay damages over Fukushima nuclear disaster, govt found not liable

Source:Xinhua Published: 2017/9/22 22:06:34

A Japanese court on Friday ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. (TEPCO) to pay damages to people who were forced to leave their homes in the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The Chiba District Court ordered the embattled utility to pay 376 million yen (3.59 million US dollars) to 42 of the 45 plaintiffs.
The original lawsuit was seeking damages from TEPCO and the government of 2.8 billion yen (25 million US dollars).

The court, however, dismissed claims that were also made by the plaintiffs against the government, in the lawsuit that was originally filed in March 2013.

Friday's ruling marks the second time that a court in Japan has ruled in favor of lawsuits brought against TEPCO by people who fled from Fukushima Prefecture in the wake of the disaster, the meltdowns of which discharged huge amounts of radioactive materials into the air.

The complainants who were ruled in favor of on Friday maintained that they suffered significant losses as a result of being forced to leave their homes and places of employment, after the Daiichi plant suffered multiple nuclear meltdowns in the wake of an earthquake-triggered tsunami that knocked out the plant's vital cooling systems.

At issue in the case was whether the government and TEPCO were able to predict that a huge tsunami would hit the Daiichi plant following a 9.0-magnitude "undersea megathrust earthquake" that struck off the east coast of the Oshika Peninsula of Japan's northern Tohoku region.

The case focused on the government's and TEPCO's ability to have taken preventative measures prior to the crisis which remains the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl catastrophe.

The plaintiffs claimed that the disaster would have been preventable if the Daiichi plant's back up power generation equipment, that was knocked out by the tsunami, would have been located on higher ground.

The claim was based on the government's earthquake research promotion unit's assessment that there was a 20 percent chance that a 8.0-magnitude, tsunami-triggering quake would strike along the Japan Trench in the Pacific Ocean within 30 years.

The prediction included the fact that in such an eventuality, a tsunami would inundate the coast of Fukushima Prefecture, among others.

In 2008, an in-house study conducted by TEPCO itself identified an immediate need to bolster the facilitiy's defenses from flooding by seawater.

The study at the time made specific reference to the possibility of tsunami-waves of up to 10.2 meters hitting the plant, but TEPCO senior officials determined then that such a risk was unrealistic and did not take the prediction seriously, thus no preventative measures were taken.

The government and TEPCO argued in the latest case that even if a tsunami higher than the plant's walls hitting the plant could have been predicted and preventative measures taken, they could not be held liable due to the height of the actual tsunami topping 15.5 meters.

In Friday's ruling, presiding judge Masaru Sakamoto said the government was not liable as it not exercising powers to force TEPCO to take anti-flooding measures was "not unreasonable."

The court did find, however, that TEPCO should pay compensation for the psychological suffering of the plaintiffs linked to the accident.

In March, the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture ruled that both the government and TEPCO were negligent and hence liable for the nuclear accident.

In the first such ruling which was made among 30 similar lawsuits being filed by groups of evacuees, TEPCO was ordered to pay damages and the government found to have not exercised its authority over the utility, which it reportedly described as "strikingly irrational and illegal."

The damages ordered to be paid by the Maebashi court to 137 people forced to flee their homes, amounted to 39 million yen (348,000 US dollars).

The earthquake which struck on March 11, 2011, rocked Japan's entire eastern seaboard with the ensuing tsunami engulfing wide swathes of the country's northeast, including Fukushima Prefecture.

According to official accounts, the earthquake and tsunami damaged or destroyed more than one million buildings in Japan resulting in the forced evacuation of 470,000 people.

As of the end of August this year, 55,000 people remained displaced from their homes in Japan as a result of the triple disasters.


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