27 Septembre 2017
September 22, 2017
Tepco again ordered to pay damages in nuclear disaster, but not state
CHIBA, Japan (Kyodo) -- A Japanese court ordered Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. on Friday to pay damages over the nuclear disaster at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant following a deadly 2011 earthquake and tsunami, but dismissed claims against the state.
The Chiba District Court ruling follows a Maebashi District Court decision in March that found negligence on the part of both Tepco and the government played a part in the worst nuclear catastrophe since Chernobyl and ordered them to pay damages.
Friday's ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by 45 people who were forced to flee Fukushima Prefecture to Chiba Prefecture near Tokyo as reactors that lost cooling functions caused meltdowns and spewed massive amounts of radioactive materials into the air.
The Chiba court awarded a total of 376 million yen ($3.35 million) to 42 of them, including all four who voluntarily evacuated. In the suit filed in March 2013, the plaintiffs were collectively seeking around 2.8 billion yen in damages from the government and plant operator.
The focal point of the Chiba case was whether the government and Tepco were able to foresee the huge tsunami that hit the seaside plant on March 11, 2011, and take preventive measures beforehand, with conflicting claims made by the parties regarding the government's long-term earthquake assessment, which was made public in 2002.
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.
Based on the assessment, the plaintiffs argued that, with the plant standing on ground roughly 10 meters above sea level, a tsunami higher than the ground striking the plant could have been predicted.
They then claimed that the disaster was therefore preventable if emergency power generation equipment had been placed on higher ground, and that the government should have made Tepco take such measures by exercising its regulatory powers.
The government and Tepco, for their part, claimed the assessment was not established knowledge, and that even if they had foreseen a tsunami higher than the site of the plant and taken measures against it, they cannot be held liable as the actual tsunami was much higher at around 15.5 meters.
The government also argued that it obtained regulatory powers to force Tepco to take anti-flooding measures only after a legislative change following the disaster.
In Friday's ruling, the court found the government not liable, saying that while the government indeed has such powers, not exercising them was not too unreasonable.
While ordering Tepco to pay damages, the court determined that the plant operator did not commit serious negligence that would have required a higher compensation amount, saying it did not totally leave anti-tsunami measures unaddressed.
The plaintiffs' lawyers criticized the ruling as unfair, in that the court did not recognize the state's liability. But they still positively rated the court's acknowledgement of the loss of the plaintiffs' hometown, jobs and personal relationships, and compensation for such a loss.
In March, the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture recognized negligence on the part not just of Tepco but also the government, saying they were able to foresee a tsunami high enough to inundate the plant.
It was the first such ruling issued among around 30 suits of the same kind and the first to rule in favor of plaintiffs.
The Maebashi court acknowledged that the government had regulatory authority over Tepco even before the accident, noting that "failing to exercise it is strikingly irrational and illegal."
The court awarded to 62 of 137 plaintiffs a total of 38.55 million yen in damages, far less than the 1.5 billion yen sought in total. Many of the plaintiffs have appealed the district court decision.
In the Chiba suit, the 45 plaintiffs, including four who evacuated voluntarily, sought 20 million yen each for compensation for their evacuation and the loss of their hometown, jobs and personal relationships because their lives were uprooted.
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 in the wake of the disaster.
TEPCO ordered to pay evacuees of Fukushima nuclear disaster
By NOBUYUKI TAKIGUCHI/ Staff Writer
CHIBA--A district court here on Sept. 22 ordered Tokyo Electric Power Co. to pay 376 million yen ($3.3 million) in compensation to evacuees of the Fukushima nuclear disaster but absolved the central government of responsibility.
Forty-five people in 18 households who evacuated to Chiba Prefecture following the 2011 meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant sought a total of about 2.8 billion yen from TEPCO and the government.
About 30 similar lawsuits involving 12,000 plaintiffs have been filed at district courts around Japan.
The Chiba District Court ruling was the second so far.
In March, the Maebashi District Court in Gunma Prefecture found both TEPCO and the government responsible for the nuclear disaster and ordered compensation totaling 38.55 million yen for 62 plaintiffs.
The main point of the lawsuit in the Chiba District Court was whether TEPCO and the government could have foreseen a towering tsunami hitting the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and taken measures to prevent the disaster.
The plaintiffs emphasized a long-term appraisal released by the central government in 2002, which estimated a 20-percent possibility of a magnitude-8 level earthquake occurring between the coast off the Sanriku region in the Tohoku region to the coast off the Boso Peninsula of Chiba Prefecture within the next 30 years.
The plaintiffs argued that this appraisal shows it was possible to forecast a tsunami off the coast from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, and that measures could have been taken even as late as 2006 to prevent the disaster.
For the first time in a court case involving compensation related to the Fukushima disaster, a seismologist provided testimony on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Kunihiko Shimazaki, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, once served as a deputy chairman of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. He was also in charge of compiling the 2002 long-term appraisal for the government.
“The height of a likely tsunami could have been known if it was calculated based on that appraisal,” Shimazaki said in court. “Even if a specific forecast could not be made, some sort of countermeasure could have been taken.”
The defendants argued that the long-term appraisal did not provide a specific basis for predicting a tsunami and only pointed to the fact that a magnitude-8 level earthquake occurring could not be ruled out.