The class action lawsuit, involving 3,800 plaintiffs, is the largest of about 30 similar cases filed by 12,000 Fukushima residents who say their lives were adversely affected by the triple meltdown and its aftermath.
In March, a court ruled for the first time that negligence by the state contributed to the events at Fukushima Daiichi, the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl 25 years earlier.
Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), which ran the plant when it was struck by a powerful earthquake and tsunami on 11 March 2011, has been ordered to pay damages in all three court rulings to date.
The plaintiffs, who included Fukushima residents who were not told to evacuate, will each receive up to 360,000 yen, according to the verdict. The court rejected a demand for monthly compensation of 55,000 yen until radiation at the plaintiffs’ homes has fallen to pre-disaster levels.
The cases hinge on whether the government and Tepco could have foreseen the disaster, which knocked out the plant’s cooling systems and destroyed backup generators that could have been used to prevent the fuel melting in three of its six reactors.
The court in Fukushima said the government had failed to order Tepco to improve safety measures, despite being aware almost a decade earlier that Japan’s north-east coast, where the plant is located, was at risk of a powerful tsunami.
The plaintiffs based their claim on a 2002 report in which government experts estimated there was a one in five chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake occurring and triggering a tsunami of up to 15.7 metres in height within the next 30 years.
The court upheld the plaintiffs’ claims that the meltdown could have been prevented if the ministry responsible for Japan’s nuclear power industry had ordered Tepco to move emergency diesel generators from the plant’s basement to higher ground and make the reactor buildings watertight.
The government and Tepco argued that there was no way they could have predicted a tsunami as powerful as the one that destroyed large swaths of coastline, and described the accident as unavoidable.
Almost seven years after the disaster, more than 50,000 evacuees are still living in limbo. Many say they will never be able to return home, although some have moved back to communities where the government has lifted evacuation orders.
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