The District Court of Chiba on Friday ruled that the government of Japan did not have to compensate evacuees form the Fukushima area affected by the 2011 triple meltdown at the nuclear power station there, but that the plant's owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) was liable.
The court ordered Tepco to compensate 42 evacuees an average of about $95,000 in a ruling that totaled $3.4 million. The money is to compensate evacuees for lost income due to their having to move out of the area, but the court considered the psychological aspects of the case, as well. “(Tepco) did not entirely fail to adopt measures against the risk of tsunami, it cannot be considered as gross negligence … but the psychological sufferings of local residents over losing lives and the community they use to have are related to the accident, and Tepco should compensate,” Japanese media quoted judge Marasu Sakamoto as saying.
While Friday's ruling was the second such lawsuit to reach a verdict, it was closely watched, as there are about 30 other lawsuits pending in the court system. The first case to reach a conclusion ruled that the government and Tepco were both liable, but the compensation awarded was much lower, amounting to $5,500 per person.
Even at that rate, the money awarded could add up substantially. In the 30 pending cases, there are approximately 12,000 plaintiffs involved. At the lesser rate, that would amount to a total of $66 million. At the rate awarded Friday, that would be 17.3 times that amount or $1.14 billion.
The plaintiffs on Friday will receive about a seventh of what they were seeking. They had petitioned the court for an award of $25 million.
The Chiba court reasoned that the government, even if they had taken safety measures suggested in a 2002 study done by the country's nuclear regulator, would not have been able to prevent the 2011 tsunami from breaching the barriers at the nuclear power plant. That study predicted a 20 percent chance of an 8-level earthquake striking in the region. The March 2011 earthquake, called the Great East Japan Earthquake, which killed 15,894 people, injured another 6,152 and left 2,562 missing, was a 9.0-9.1 level magnitude earthquake. This triggered the 50-feet high tsunami event that overtook the Fukushima Daiichi Generating Station. Not incidental to these statistics, it was later calculated that 13,135 of the fatalities were deaths by drowning – about 92.5 percent of the victims.
Given the study predicted the possibility of an smaller earthquake than the one that struck, the court ruled the government's response was moot. “Though the government was able to predict the possibility of a tsunami higher than the site of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant's Unit 1 Reactor by at least 2006, even if it had introduced safety measures, this would not necessarily have prevented the accident,” said judge Sakamoto.
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