For the first time since the 2011 disaster, a Japanese court has ruled that the government is liable for the triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The Maebashi district court awarded 38.55 million yen, equivalent to about 334,773 dollars, to 137 evacuees affected by the nuclear disaster. While courts have previously awarded damages to people affected by the disaster, the ruling Friday marks the first time the government has been held liable.
In March 2011, three of the nuclear plant’s six reactors experienced a catastrophic meltdown after a magnitude 6.6 earthquake, leading to mass evacuations and damage. Though officials have argued that the quake and resulting tsunami were not possible to predict, the Maebashi court said the meltdown was preventable. The court said the government should have instituted regulations to force Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), the plant’s operator, to take more stringent measures to prevent such a meltdown.
The plaintiffs in the case included forced as well as voluntary evacuees, who claimed that Tepco and the government should have been able to foresee the eventual occurrence of a 10-meter tsunami, and take adequate measures to prevent a meltdown. They cited a 2002 report by government officials, saying there was a one in five chance of a magnitude 8 earthquake triggering a major tsunami in the next 3 decades.
In 2011, after the meltdown, Japan’s regulators were criticized for their ties to the nuclear power industry. New regulatory authorities have imposed tighter standards for reopening reactors that were shutdown following the incident.
137 plaintiffs are seeking a total of 1.5 billion yen in compensation for emotional hardship in the wake of the incident. Tepco said they would respond after studying the ruling. The company is already facing costs to decommission the plant and to compensate evacuees that total 21.5 trillion yen. The plaintiffs claim that the meltdown and evacuation ruined their livelihoods, and that state compensation received so far was inadequate.
The lawsuit is the first of 30 to be brought by Fukushima evacuees. Tens of thousands of these evacuees are still unable to return to their homes, a small portion have moved back to areas where the evacuation orders have been lifted.
The ruling shares conclusions with a 2012 report that considered the meltdown a “man-made” disaster, brought about by conflicts of interest and collusion between industry and regulators. The report said Tepco had failed to take sufficient safety measures, despite that part of Japan’s coast being considered vulnerable to major earthquakes and tsunamis.
According to the report:
“The Fukushima nuclear power plant accident was the result of collusion between the government, the regulators and Tepco, and the lack of governance by said parties. They effectively betrayed the nation’s right to be safe from nuclear accidents. Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly ‘man-made’.”