Voluntary evacuees granted only small awards in Fukushima nuke disaster damage case

The banner to the right reads, "Partial victory in the suit".

The district court in Maebashi, north of Tokyo, ruled in favour of 137 evacuees seeking damages for the emotional distress of fleeing their homes as radiation spread from the meltdowns at Tepco's Fukushima Daiichi plant after an quake and tsunami six years ago.

The plaintiffs highlighted the fact that in May 2008, three years before the disaster, plant operator TEPCO received an estimate of a tsunami as high as 15.7 meters that could hit the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, Asahi Shimbun reported. (Damages in Japanese civil cases tend to be much smaller than those in the U.S.) TEPCO is already paying compensation of ¥100,000 per month to victims who were forced to evacuate the area around the plant.

Tepco, which faces a ¥21.5tn bill for decommissioning the plant and compensating evacuees, said it would respond after studying the ruling.

"We again apologize from the bottom of our hearts for giving great troubles and concerns to the residents of Fukushima and other people in society by causing the accident of the nuclear power station of our company", Isao Ito, a spokesman, said.

The Fukushima nuclear plant was hit by an natural disaster and then a tsunami in 2011, causing a meltdown and radiation leaks.

According to Japanese news reports of the ruling by the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture, the court said that the disaster, considered the worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, was "predictable" and that it was "possible to prevent the accident".

Some experts have criticized the district court decision, saying that it only confirmed the legitimacy of the interim guidelines. The case decided Friday involved 76 citizens from the evacuation zone and 61 who were termed voluntary evacuees.

It ordered them to pay damages ranging from 70,000 yen (£500) to 3.5 million yen (£25,000) to 62 plaintiffs, for a total of 38 million yen (£272,000).

However, Takehiro Matsuta, one of the plaintiffs who evacuated from the city of Koriyama in central Fukushima Prefecture, called the damages "disappointing".

The judgement on Friday is the first time that the government was held liable for the disaster even though many other lawsuits were filed in connection to other aspects of the disaster. "It's not enough as judicial redress".

  • Todd Kelly