Japanese Court Awards Damages to Fukushima Residents

The scarred and radiation contaminated landscape inside the exclusion zone close to the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant

The Maebashi District Court [official website, in Japanese] ruled that the Japanese government and Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) [official website] are liable for professional negligence in their security maintenance at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Despite official claims that the size and destructive power of the quake and tsunami were impossible to foresee, the court said the nuclear meltdown could have been prevented.

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 natural disaster and tsunami six years ago.

While the court ordered those amounts to be revised upward based on individuals' circumstances, just 38.55 million yen ($342,131) in damages were awarded to 62 of the 137 plaintiffs - less than 3% of the roughly 1.5 billion yen sought. But the court found that government experts had in fact concluded in a 2002 report that there was a 20% chance of a magnitude 8.0 or greater quake striking the area over the next 30 years. Attorneys for the plaintiffs, a group of Fukushima Prefecture residents who were forced to evacuate or fled following the disaster, argued that the March 2011 event was therefore predictable, and that the ensuing meltdowns could have been prevented had steps been taken to better protect the plant's backup power generators, for example.

A huge tsunami due to a 9.0 magnitude natural disaster smashed into the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Japan's northeastern coast in March 2011.

TEPCO did not deny responsibility in a statement on Friday. A huge tsunami knocked out the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, spewing radiation and forcing 160,000 people to flee their homes.

They said the meltdown and resulting evacuation had ruined their livelihoods and caused disruption to their families' lives, adding that state compensation they had already received was insufficient.

The ruling is the first from about 30 lawsuits filed by thousands of evacuees and could set a precedent for the other cases.

Anti-nuclear sentiment runs high in Japan, but the government says the country needs nuclear power and has moved to restart reactors that were shuttered in the aftermath of the disaster. "Therefore, we conclude that the accident was clearly "man-made".

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