The Japanese government and the electric utility that operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant must pay damages totaling $4.4 million to 2,900 people, a court ruled Tuesday.
The ruling was the largest in about 30 similar lawsuits filed by about 12,000 former and current Fukushima residents, and it was awarded even though the majority of the plaintiffs did not flee the area in the aftermath of the disaster.
This was the third case in which a court found the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) — and the second to find the government — negligent in not preventing the meltdowns set off by a powerful earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
In the latest case, the court ruled the government should have been able to anticipate a large tsunami in the region and should have forced TEPCO to take preventive measures to protect its plant from catastrophic damage.
The plaintiffs in the case sought 16 billion yen in compensation to help pay for the cost of restoring their living environment. They also asked the court to force TEPCO to lower the rate of radiation in the area to an average of about 0.04 microsieverts an hour.
According to 3,000 monitoring posts throughout Fukushima Prefecture, the highest radiation dose was 9.48 microsieverts per hour near the plant on Tuesday, and the lowest was 0.03 microsieverts per hour in Iwaki City, about 33 miles away.
The court awarded the plaintiffs close to 498 million yen and denied the request to force the company to lower the average radiation dosage.
The plaintiffs and their lawyers issued a statement saying the ruling “legally determined the negligence of both the government’s nuclear policy and TEPCO, which supported a ‘nuclear myth’ that put a priority on economic interests rather than on safety.”
In a statement, Tepco apologized for the accident:
“We sincerely apologize again that the accident occurred at our Fukushima power plant and caused great trouble and concern to the people of Fukushima and others in society. We will review today’s ruling by the Fukushima District Court and make a response.”
The meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi, which is on the eastern coast of Japan, occurred when 32-foot waves overpowered the plant’s protective sea walls, flooding buildings and destroying diesel-powered electricity generators that were designed to keep critical systems functioning in a blackout.
TEPCO and the government argued earthquake predictions made by the government’s own research unit were too vague and they could not have taken appropriate measures to guard against the flooding that occurred.
In its defense, the government said before the meltdowns, it did not have the power to force Tepco to take protective anti-flooding measures and it was authorized to do so only by legislation passed after the accident.
“We understand the court did not fully acknowledge the government’s defense,” said Kazuhiro Okuma, manager of the general affairs division of the Nuclear Regulation Authority. “We will now regulate power stations properly by applying a new regulation standard, which was created based on the nuclear accident.”