TOKYO • A Fukushima court yesterday ordered both the national government and operator of a crippled nuclear power plant to pay out nearly 500 million yen (S$6.04 million) in damages for the fallout of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
The decision is the third in a series of at least 30 similar class action lawsuits filed by more than 12,000 people across 18 prefectures, many of whom were displaced by the tragedy.
The courts have so far been split over the role of the government in preventing the nuclear fallout. What is in question is whether the government could not only have foreseen but also acted to avert the meltdowns in three reactors, after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake triggered a tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The Fukushima court ruled that it could have, in line with a judgment by a Gunma court in March, but both went against a ruling by a Chiba court last month.
Presiding judge Hideki Kanazawa said yesterday: "In 2002, the government's earthquake research institute simulated a tsunami that was generated by a major tremor, and found that it was possible for tidal waves to breach the nuclear site. This entire disaster could have been avoided had the government ordered Tepco to take more stringent measures to boost safety."
That assessment predicted a 20 per cent chance of a magnitude 8.0 earthquake striking off the coast of Fukushima within 30 years, but the government and Tepco said that the scale of the tsunami was unprecedented and so could not be predicted.
The government has also argued that laws had not allowed it to order Tepco to take safety steps until they were changed after the disaster.
POSSIBLE TO AVERT MELTDOWN
In 2002, the government's earthquake research institute simulated a tsunami that was generated by a major tremor, and found that it was possible for tidal waves to breach the nuclear site. This entire disaster could have been avoided had the government ordered Tepco to take more stringent measures to boost safety.
PRESIDING JUDGE HIDEKI KANAZAWA, ruling that the government could have foreseen and acted to avert the meltdowns in three reactors.
Yesterday's ruling went in the favour of some 2,900 of the 3,800 plaintiffs - by far the largest of the class action lawsuits - who said that the disaster caused them mental distress and affected livelihoods. But the judge said those living in areas furthest away from the crippled plant, and were not directly affected, should not be given a cut of the compensation.
Japan's nuclear dependence is being debated in the run-up to the Oct 22 national election. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants nuclear to be a key part in the energy mix, with safeguards, while rival Kibo no To (Party of Hope) wants to wean off nuclear altogether by 2030.