A district court Tuesday ordered the state and the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant to pay damages over the 2011 tsunami-triggered disaster, making it the second ruling of its kind in a series of group lawsuits filed nationwide.
The Fukushima District Court ordered the government and Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. to pay 500 million yen ($4.4 million) to about 2,900 of the 3,800 plaintiffs, many of whom did not evacuate and stayed at their homes in Fukushima and elsewhere in the midst of one of the world's worst nuclear crises.
In the ruling, Presiding Judge Hideki Kanazawa concluded that the government and Tepco are both to blame for failing to take steps to counter huge tsunami caused by an earthquake, as they were able to foresee the risks based on a quake assessment issued in 2002.
"The government's inaction in exercising its regulatory authority (to order Tepco to take safety measures) was extremely unreasonable," the judge said.
The Nuclear Regulation Authority said it will consult with other government offices on whether to appeal the ruling. Tepco also said in a statement, "We will study the content (of the ruling) and consider our response."
Among some 30 lawsuits filed nationwide by over 10,000 people, three rulings have been handed down so far and two of them -- the latest ruling by the Fukushima court and one handed down by the Maebashi District Court in March -- recognized that both the state and Tepco are liable for damages.
Only the Chiba District Court dismissed claims against the state. The plaintiffs in the Chiba and Maebashi cases were evacuees, including those who were subject to government evacuation orders and those who had left their homes at their own discretion.
In the case of the Fukushima court, the ruling said the government and Tepco were able to foresee the possibility that the plant could be hit by up to 15.7-meter-high tsunami based on the 2002 quake assessment.
The assessment, made by the government's earthquake research promotion unit, predicted a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8 level tsunami-triggering earthquake occurring along the Japan Trench in the Pacific Ocean within 30 years, including the area off Fukushima.
The court noted that the main responsibility for nuclear power plant safety lies with the operator and secondary responsibility with the state.
The plaintiffs who will receive the payments are Fukushima residents who live both in and outside the evacuation zones and some plaintiffs in Ibaraki Prefecture.
The plaintiffs filed the lawsuit seeking monthly compensation of 50,000 yen until the radiation level at their residences return to the pre-crisis level.
They also urged that radiation levels be restored to the levels before the accident, or below 0.04 microsievert per hour, but the court rejected the request.
During the trial, the government and Tepco claimed the quake assessment in question was short of being established knowledge and that the tsunami could not have been foreseen. The government also argued that it only obtained powers to force Tepco to take anti-flooding measures after a legislative change following the disaster.
The magnitude-9.0 earthquake and ensuing tsunami struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, causing multiple meltdowns and hydrogen blasts at the nuclear power plant. Around 55,000 people remained evacuated both within and outside Fukushima Prefecture as of the end of August.