TOKYO • A Japanese court has ruled for the first time that the government bears responsibility for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, and ordered it and the plant operator to pay damages.
A massive tsunami triggered by a 9.0-magnitude earthquake smashed into the Fukushima Daiichi power plant on Japan's north-eastern coast on March 11, 2011.
The water overwhelmed reactor cooling systems and sent three into meltdown, spewing radiation over a wide area in Japan's worst post-war disaster and the world's most serious nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.
More than 10,000 people who fled over radiation fears have filed various group lawsuits against the government and operator Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco).
In yesterday's ruling, the Maebashi District Court, in the north of Tokyo, found both the government and Tepco liable and ordered them to pay a total of 38.6 million yen (S$478,000) to some 130 plaintiffs, court officials said.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed in relation to various aspects of the disaster, but yesterday's ruling marked the first verdict in a group lawsuit by evacuees seeking compensation from both the government and Tepco over the catastrophe, local media said.
The amount awarded, however, was far below the 1.5 billion yen the plaintiffs had sought.
But the court ruled that the disaster could have been averted if government regulators had ordered Tepco to take preventive safety steps, Kyodo News reported.
"The government is authorised to order (Tepco) to take such measures and it was possible to prevent the accident," the court said, according to public broadcaster NHK.
Tepco said no decision had been made yet on whether to appeal against the ruling, adding that it would consider how to respond after examining the decision. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga also declined to comment, but said the ruling would have no impact on nuclear power policies.
In December, the government nearly doubled its projections for clean-up costs related to the disaster to 21.5 trillion yen. Tepco will be responsible for 15.9 trillion yen of the clean-up, according to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, piling pressure on Tepco to step up reforms and improve its performance.
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.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG