Fukushima operator told to compensate for suicide of 102-year-old ordered to evacuate

Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), which operated the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant (pictured), was ordered to pay 15.2 million yen in damages to the family of a resident who killed himself when he was ordered to evacuate following the nuclear disaster in 2011. PHOTO: AFP

TOKYO (AFP) - A Japanese court on Tuesday (Feb 20) ordered the operator of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to compensate relatives of a 102-year-old man who killed himself at the prospect of fleeing his home.

The Fukushima District Court ordered Tokyo Electric Co (Tepco) to pay 15.2 million yen (S$188,770) in damages to the family of Fumio Okubo, according to their attorney Yukio Yasuda.

Okubo was the oldest resident of Iitate village, 40km from the tsunami-hit Fukushima Daiichi plant on Japan's northeast coast, which sparked the world's worst atomic accident in a generation in 2011.

He took his own life after the government ordered area residents to flee in April 2011, a month after tsunami waves sent the plant's reactors into meltdown.

"I lived a bit too long," he told his family soon after he learnt of the government-ordered evacuation from a news report.

The court acknowledged his suicide was linked to "strong stress" at the prospect that he would have to flee and his fear that he would be a burden to his family, the attorney said.

"It is significant that the court recognised the eldest man in the village who would have lived out his final days in his homeland was hit by such a terrible tragedy," he told AFP on the phone.

The compensation ordered by the court was smaller than the 60 million yen the bereaved family had demanded, but they do not plan to appeal, he added.

Tepco said it would examine the latest ruling before it decides on its response.

The firm has already been ordered to pay damages over two other suicides involving former Fukushima residents who killed themselves after fleeing their homes.

Iitate was one of a number of areas the central government declared off-limits due to concerns at the effect of long-term exposure to radiation.

The killer tsunami, triggered by a magnitude 9.0 offshore earthquake on March 11, 2011, swamped the emergency power supplies at the Fukushima power plant, sending its reactors into meltdown as cooling systems failed.

Many of the tens of thousands of people who evacuated their homes and farms are unlikely to return to their ancestral properties due to radiation dangers.

While the quake and tsunami killed nearly 18,000 people, no one is officially recorded as having died as a direct result of the atomic catastrophe.

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