Japan court rules government, Tepco are liable for negligence over Fukushima disaster

A member of the media uses a Geiger counter at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima, Japan on Feb 23, 2017.
A member of the media uses a Geiger counter at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma, Fukushima, Japan on Feb 23, 2017.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - A court in Japan on Friday (March 17) ruled that Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) and the government are liable for negligence in a case involving compensation for the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the first time the judiciary has ruled the state has liability, Japanese media reported.

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 earthquake and tsunami six years ago, the Mainichi newspaper and other media reported.

While courts have ruled in favour of plaintiffs and awarded damages arising from the disaster, it was the first time a court has recognized that the government was liable, the Mainichi said.

Tepco has long been criticized for ignoring the threat posed by natural disasters to the Fukushima plant and both the company and government were lambasted for their handling of the crisis.

Tepco said in a statement it would review the contents of the ruling before making a response.

In December, the government nearly doubled its projections for costs related to the disaster to 21.5 trillion yen (S$266 billion), increasing pressure on Tepco to step up reform and improve its performance.

In the world's worst nuclear calamity since Chernobyl in 1986, three reactors at Tepco's Fukushima plant suffered meltdowns after a magnitude 9 earthquake in March 2011 triggered a tsunami that devastated a swathe of Japan's northeastern coastline and killed more than 15,000 people.